The Problem with Elite Education
Hojung Kim, the author below, will go far. He is apparently of Korean parentage so got to go to eminent schools through sheer brainpower, not parental affluence. He is already engaged in an entrepreneurial business. It is to his credit that he strongly appreciates how kind America has been to him. His background also seems to make him sensitive to arrogance and that is what he writes about below.
I come from a culture -- Australia -- where social stratification is very faint and where it is deplored. "Jack is as good as his master" is one way that it is popularily expressed. And I have personally benefited from that egalitarianism. My origins are pretty bottom of the heap but I have cruised through life with no hint of my origins holding me back in any way.
So I deplore arrogance born of privileged origins as much as Mr Kim does. He doesn't have much of a solution to the problem he sees, though. I do. Christianity. It teaches humility. I had a great deal of influence from Christian teachings in my pre-adult years so I know that culture well and appreciate it.
Another way in which I diverge from Mr Kim is that he sees an advantageous beginning in life as imposing an obligation -- to work for the good of others. Most people would probably agree with him on that but I cannot see a chain of reasoning that leads to that conclusion. There seems in fact to be no chain of reasoning. It is just asserted that good fortune imposes an obligation. But that assertion is purely a matter of opinion or personal values. It is a leap of faith, not anything logically implied.
From my libertarian viewpoint, ones achievements are as much private property as are one's goods. It is very common for rich men -- such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett -- to become energetic philanthropists but they are under no obligation to do so. I give a lot of my income away too. People who spend millions of dollars on a wedding or other family celebration seem pathetic to me but as long as their money is fairly earned we need to give them that liberty. In Australia, any such ostentation is regarded with contempt, however
But, in essence, what Mr Kim is arguing for is humility. That is a Christian message too.
Shades of dark blue sweatshirts and scarves. A raucous crowd. The squeak of shoes on hardcourt floors and rubber balls slapping against glass backwall.
These were my surroundings from yesterday night. I was the acting referee for the Yale squash team’s home match against Drexel University.
The overall match is scored best of 9, with each team’s 1–9 seeds playing five-set matches against the corresponding ranked player. In the middle of a tightly contested match between the #8 seeds, one Yale senior from the crowd starts shouting at the Drexel player:
“Sorry man. You’re just not good enough.” he jeers.
Trash talk from the crowd is not uncommon, perhaps even acceptable in other sports like football or hockey. But in squash, spectators have little separation from the players. The sound reaches from above the courts and echoes around the walls. And for the referees, who sit among the crowd, the noise distracts the decision-making that ultimately affects the outcome.
So I turn to him, and ask him to stop, explaining that insulting the visiting players is both disrespectful and distracting to the game.
He smirks, cutting me off: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I apologize. I get it. I’ll stop, I’ll stop.”
As play continues, this Yalie shouts more insults at the Drexel player, getting louder as points become more crucial. The Drexel player, exasperated, turns toward me, points the kid’s cocky smile out from the crowd:
“Can you please ask that guy to stop?”
Another Drexel player, sitting beside me, tells me:
“I only have this problem with Ivy League kids. It’s like they feel they’re better than everyone else and can just do whatever they want.”
I nod. He’s just stated the very definition of entitlement.
I think this bothers me so much because I myself have been blessed with elite educational opportunities throughout my life. I attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and later the University of Chicago — both top-tier academic institutions. I only got the chance to attend them through generous financial aid.
Nick, one of my dormmates from Exeter, put it best during an annual dorm tradition where the graduating seniors would give the younger students parting “Words of Wisdom.” His arena was the football stadium, dark in the midsummer night. A small candle at his feet illuminated his body up to his chin while he spoke:
“There are not a lot of people who are blessed with this educational opportunity.”
He speaks slow and measured, with wisdom far beyond his 18 years:
“We really won the lottery of life. We should use that privilege to try to change the world for the better.”
I felt tears slipping from my eyes as I nodded. I had always seen this incredible education as a lottery-like privilege. Some of my peers have not.
They brandish elite education like a brand name on their resume. These kids have been blessed with so much privilege, which a decade down the road will turn into power. Will they take that power and turn it into positive impact? Or will they carry it as an ego-boost, coasting through life on Wall Street?
The problem is that kids become comfortable. Simply saying that they attended these brand name universities — Harvard, Princeton, Yale —commands respect without them even having to accomplish anything. Without ever having to become good people.
I feel this sinking in the rhythm of my breathing. I am watching Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early September. His candidacy for the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body of the United States, is being leveled by multiple claims of sexual assault and misconduct.
First he launches into a tirade completely unfit for the respectful atmosphere of the hearing room. As he speaks, the sinking feeling turns to one of dreadful familiarity. That cocky smirk as he answers questions with a sense of impunity. A complete lack of accountability and respect.
Kavanaugh graduated from Yale College in 1987, and Yale Law in 1990.
I’ve seen that look so many times throughout my life. At Exeter in high school, at UChicago in college, and now at Yale, where I spend my days working on a startup with some of my cofounders (who are Yale students themselves). When I recognize it, I worry about the future.
Someday, those kids are going to be our society’s leaders — in industry, medicine, and government. With so much power to their name, who will hold them accountable?
I know that this article will be extremely upsetting to a great deal of my peers, who attended these schools with me. But the problem that I point to may make up as little as 5% of the student bodies in concern.
But the worst 5% will characterize the whole. We see it with the small minority of police officers who exercise racial brutality so vile that we have lost our trust for our service people in blue. The fault is of the 5%, yes, but they are only allowed to thrive because the other 95% of the organization fails to hold them accountable for their actions. It is not the onus of the public, but of that 95% to call their peers out on their toxic behavior.