William Deresiewicz, in his essay "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education" (Summer 2008), says that his prestigious education kept him from being able to communicate with people who aren't just like him. My prestigious education, at Yale, taught me how to communicate.
Along with some of the amazing people I met in my theater group at Yale, I am starting a nonprofit, arts-education program. We are going to run after-school theater and creative-writing courses in low-income communities in Savannah, Georgia. It's risky, it's difficult, and I'm doing it only because I know I'll love the work. I won't get paid much, but I won't feel like I'm "wasting" my expensive education, either. Despite all its problems with elitism, Yale encouraged me to get out into the world, mess up, try again, work hard, and do everything I can to be useful in the process. I'm grateful for that. And guess who contributed $10,000 to encourage us to go for this wacky endeavor? That's right: Yale.
The assertion that education at an elite university is to blame for Deresiewicz's inability to converse with his plumber is preposterous! I was fortunate enough to attend an elite university (Stanford), and I take issue with a number of his statements. In particular, I deny that I was taught to think I am superior. What I did gain was a real serf-confidence and a belief that I could accomplish anything.
However, when not busy biting the hand that feeds him, the author showed some real aptitude for identifying societal trends, just as he did in his earlier article, "Love on Campus." His observations on the changing role of friendship, and on the value of solitude, are very astute.
North Dighton, Massachusetts
Oh how true, William Deresiewicz! I taught a core collegiate liberal arts curriculum for 32 years for students who, by and large, should have been in trade schools. They were interested only in how quickly they could turn the skills and materials I taught them into cash. It was obvious there was no cash value in reading the Iliad or comparing architectural styles, so such courses were regarded as useless impositions to be gotten out of the way as soon in the college career as possible. Most of my students had to work to afford a university education, so they had plenty of contact with varied classes of people. But paying for some of their education led to a different kind of entitlement; they...