this is incredible.
As a parent who patiently answered MANY questions for my future Princetonian and who could NEVER afford the tuition + room and board without considerable financial assistance, I say, Willa Nailed It!
this is awesome. thank you willa.
Oh my gawd my parents gave me so much oh my gawd I work so hard, I have so many interests and so much humility. Please tell me this is not earnest... you are kinda proving Deresiewicz's point.
Unknown, please explain in more detail so we can take you seriously.
You told your story through snippets of text and cartoon drawings? Tell me again how you aren't a pretentious douche-bag..
um... when did cartoons become "pretentious??"please, if you want to disagree with the above, make an argument. "uhhh, you're a douchebag," or "is this in earnest???" just doesn't cut it.
1. Willa gives thanks for her parents' devotion to encouraging her learning process (Not pretentious)2. Willa states that this provided a foundation for intellectual curiosity and learning. (Not pretentious)3. Willa states that as a result of her academic success, she was frequently complimented. (likely true, not really pretentious).4. Willa states "Who wouldn't start getting an inflated ego?" (Starting to sound pretentious, or at the very least giving the indication that self-aggrandizement is appropriate).5. Willa states that she feels lucky to have gotten into her first choice Ivy. (likely true, not really pretentious, most high achievers are relatively OCPD with a good amount of self critique that would make them glad for the reassurance that they are, in fact, elite).6. At Princeton, surrounded by other elites, was when Willa began to feel and be treated like a "normal person." (ALERT ALERT ALERT)7. While the overall point that Willa strives to make is that her education at Princeton allowed her to receive a lesson in humility, she may not realize the implication that she makes in that an elite education environment was what was REQUIRED for her to learn this lesson in humility. or "I grew up to be a badass, but i needed bigger badasses to make me realize that I wasn't the biggest badass out there. The people around me weren't perceived to be big enough badasses to afford me this lesson, and I had to have ULTRA-badasses show this to me...at Princeton." One might ask why this lesson in humility couldn't have been learnt among peers who weren't necessarily "elites."
^this guy's got it.thank god you have humility now, at least you've learned something in college..nevermind the people who didn't go to college (who could very well be brilliant, mind you), or the ones who didn't test as well on paper, or simply chose a local school, or even those that may not be as "smart" or as academically motivated.learning is amazing, but you don't need a place like "princeton" to give you that.
The critics are moving the goalposts. Deresiewicz's thesis is that there are disadvantages to an elite education. But the critics here are saying that people at elite schools only benefit from an elite education because they're bad people. These are very different claims.
you guys are making valid points, that it is NOT necessary to go to an elite university to learn these "lessons in humility" but that is NOT what the cartoon is arguing. she is NOT saying that this lesson can be learned through an Ivy League and only an Ivy League. she is simply arguing against the article which states Ivy Leagues breed pretentiousness. she is saying that, in fact, her Ivy League experience taught her humility. she is NOT saying this is the only way to learn humility. tl;dr: she is ONLY responding to deresiewicz's criticism of ivy leagues, NOT arguing that ivy leagues are the only way to go
I don't think that aspect of Willa's experience is unique to the Ivy League. In my experience, most people with any degree of Badassery -- whether they're at Harvard, Alabama State, Green River Community College, UCLA, whatever -- find themselves happier with their communities in college than they were in high school (and certainly, heaven help us all, middle school and below). This actually shouldn't be that surprising. Anyone who goes to college goes because they want to be there (okay, social pressures and all that, but for the most part I think that's a fair assessment). People get a chance to develop their talents through specialization, thus becoming greater badasses themselves, and they also mature and learn to interact with one another on a deeper and more rewarding level. This is just something that happens when dumb teenagers start having life experiences, dealing with challenges as independent adults, making serious choices and handling serious questions, and meeting people who are different from them. Any institution of higher education can provide a fantastic forum for people to turn into Badasses -- the same simply cannot be said of high school.
Justus,Thanks for your thoughtful criticism--that was actually one of my concerns as I was writing this. I'm saying that Princeton taught me humility, not elitism. But if I HAD to go to an Ivy League school to learn humility, isn't that elitist in itself?But I don't believe that this kind of learning happens ONLY at Ivy League schools. It's just where it happened to occur for me, and perhaps the same would have happened if I had chosen a different school. There's no way for me to know. My point was not, "You need to go to Princeton to learn humility." Instead, I meant to say, "Princeton students/graduates don't all feel entitled and special. On the contrary, it has the opposite effect on many of them."tl;dr-- "Ivy League schools" are a place to learn humility, but not the only one.Hope this clears some things up, and thanks for engaging with the actual content of my argument. :)Willa
Hey! Stumbled upon this via Facebook. Thanks so much for this. Spot-on. /Columbia grad
Willa, this is brilliant. Thanks so much for rendering your life experience so poignantly. People like Deresiewicz get attention because they're polemical, and it's not in his interest to consider how "elite" schools like Princeton actually do function in the service of all nations. But thankfully some people - careful, thoughtful people, like you - are capable of approaching an issue like this from more than one angle. You win.
Justus, you learn humility wherever other people are a good as or better than you at the thing you're best at. Otherwise people will treat you like you're "better", and you will see that you indeed are "better" on certain metrics. Seeing that you are "better" at something is not conducive to humility. The small town quarterback who lit up local defenses for 400 yds and 5 tds every game isn't going to have humility until he proceeds to get knocked on his ass or throw a few pick sixes to cost his team the game at the FBS level. Similarly, his counterpart, the small town beauty queen, who ride on parade flats and had a prom date by October of her freshman year, isn't going to learn humility until she joins the USC song girls and hears her teammates comment on the "unsightly" mole on her stomach, or fails, for the first time in her life to get a date from the boy that she sets her sights on. In sum, humility is learned through experiencing inadequacy. Sometimes it takes stiffer competition for us to experience this.
Rode* on parade floats*Sorry i'm writing from my phone.
Justus [comically] nailed it. @guy above^: yes...sometimes being around others who are much "better" at things produces humility. Other times, it produces superiority by association. Sometimes humility comes when you are the "best" at something locally, but realize that you don't truly deserve the praise you're being given. It's not so easy. Elizabeth is also correct. The argument here is not that ONLY Ivy League education is good at producing humility - it merely refutes Deresiewicz's claim that IL automatically breeds pretentiousness. Nevertheless, Willa's singular example (of her own experience, which we're to take at face value) is not sufficient to refute WD's op-ed, unless his claim is that IL ed produces pretentious grads 100% of the time. Nor does her singular experience somehow negate the impressions we may have from the statistically improbable multitude of pretentious IL grads we know - many of whom spend 5 minutes per day citing their fortunate upbringing, loving parents, and humbling experience at X Ivy League school as a token disclaimer of their other 23 hours and 55 minutes of pretentious behaviour. But...I know many truly humble, personable, brilliant, and fantastic IL grads too. Depends on the person, and a wholesale argument in either direction is meaningless without some data.
" Sometimes humility comes when you are the "best" at something locally, but realize that you don't truly deserve the praise you're being given. It's not so easy"You concede that its not so easy. Which is why people may require a rude awakening at an Ivy League school
Willa et al,I don't think that all Princeton or all Ivy league or all "insert posh-elitist seeming school" students can be lumped into any category. I also hope that I am not coming across as being anti-Ivy/uberbadass school. I also really enjoyed your cartoon, FWIW. Furthermore, I don't think that I made any value judgments on people who attended any Ivy league or prestigious school, but I'll try to re-read my comments. I don't think that I ever cried foul that someone had earned a great education at a fine institution. Any institution that can help teach an individual humility and humanity is good in my book. I think Willa got the point that I was making, and that I wasn't intending to generalize the statement to all badasses out there, that it could, in fact, be perceived as elitist that an Ivy league school was where she learned humility. Heck, it's where I got the good kick in the pants that I needed to not be totally stuck on myself too. ;) I do think, however, there is a point in your cartoon where you do seem to make a parallel statement to Dere-whatever's article, where an elite education inculcates a "false sense of self-worth" only in that your acceptance and continued education at an elite school seems to further the trend of you being a badass, spilling over from elementary and high school. Fortunately, however, that environment, again, helped provide the sense of humility based on the challenges you experienced and the comparisons you made of yourself to others. I think there CAN be disadvantages to any learning environment. Almost any institution of higher learning (and its surrounding areas) gets a bit of a "bubble" effect around it where you find yourself no longer in a representative cross-section of America, which really has the potential to impair your ability to relate to a the larger population as a whole if you become complacent within Academia. You can get to a point where you are more comfortable talking about gender roles and linguistic reclamation in 17th century Spain than you are with talking about weather, sports, or "non-pretentious" things. In that environment, it can be very easy to lose sight of other opportunities to learn lessons that may not present themselves atop the well manicured lawns of badass schools. Clearly, it's up to the individual scholar to seek knowledge from a multitude of sources, and all I think that Der-whoozit was trying to say was that there could be some flaws in the way that some institutions of higher education have established a culture of learning.And, does it not also reflect perhaps a slight potential lack of humility to be able to accept that the educational system in which one was taught, might just be less than 100%?Oh and here's a happy kirby:(>^_^)>
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Lol...I responded to this essay on my Blog too last year. I was funny, but you have cartoons and its funny, so... (^_^) !!!!From normal kid/Cornell grad who sips beer and plays Spades with my plumber.
Fun cartoon, but I'd take on the original author from a different angle. Instead of arguing that Princeton imbued one with humility, I'd argue that "elitism" is not bad. It's merely a recognition of the fact that one has achieved more success, with more brainpower, than the vast majority of people. For any of us ILs to deny this is cognitive dissonance. Furthermore, there's no reason that intellectual superiority, and the deserved sense of superiority it breeds, should make one socially incompetent or incapable of normal conversation. I'm sure most of us are intimately familiar with hiding our intelligence.Tl;Dr: don't debate on Deresiewicz's terms. Flip the script on that rabblerousing bastard.
I'm can see that you passed cartoon creation 101 at Princeton.
There is nothing wrong with intellectual snobbishness. You most likely earnt it.
Wholeheartedly agree with @Willa. It's easy for people to assume that everyone who goes to an Ivy League school is the same. We are all very lucky to have been given opportunities that not everyone has - parents that have time to dedicate, supporting environment, etc. I've never met someone who doesn't recognize the role of luck in their "success." Like for Willa, attending a great school was a humbling experience for me and is where I first became culturally aware, sensitive, and able to interact with a wide range of people. And, as Willa noted, I actually went to Harvard not because I could afford it, but because I couldn't afford anywhere else - Harvard provided enough financial aid that it was cheaper than my local state school. I will be the first to admit the "elite higher education" system has plenty of flaws, and that's what drives my passion in education reform. (I'm currently working at Coursera to make a great education available to everyone for free.) But let's not throw the baby (students) out with the bathwater.
Hah. Lots of amusing irony in the cartoon.
Yikes...you have to see the irony in saying that getting a B for the first time in your life builds the humility to interact with a struggling single parent in Detroit.Lord knows you're not saying that Princeton's financial aid has now made the school representative of the rest of the U.S.*The idea that you didn't even notice how much of a bubble you were living in at Princeton proves his point more than ever.Hopefully no one other than your really elite friends on your facebook sees this.*** I'm sure they'll cosign and give you many likes because they can relate to having to work at Morgan Stanley instead of Goldman Sachs because of said B's. *I dare not mention the rest of the globe since you mentioned around the world...yeah I bet the internationals are representative too**of all ivies, hell its almost as iso'd as fair Dartmouth***I think we can assume you went to a private high school too, otherwise it would've been pretty obvious how warped Princeton is. At least you avoid those lowbrow HS friends like those of us in the "I went to public school, b****" FB group.
Cute cartoon, but I think you've missed the point of Deresciewiz' article. I've taught at state schools and now an ivy league school for a number of years, and, with all due respect, you might find that things look a little different when you're on the inside. My students are all very sweet people individually, but that doesn't mean that there isn't an institutional culture that instills in undergraduates a sense of their own exceptionalism. I hear it every time someone says "but I go to [Brand Name Institution X]." I see it in boastful comments in the student paper. In my own field I see it in my students' writing, too, when they speak about the thing they are writing about from the privileged position of the one who knows better.What many undergraduates do not understand by virtue of their position in the academy and their lack of a frame of reference is the extent to which every positive aspect of the college experience has been commodified, all in the hopes of cultivating a "spirit of giving." It even seeps into the curriculum, as I can personally attest. Part of that involves convincing the students that they are the creme de la creme. Public universities don't do this as much, and given that resources from states are drying up, I often wonder if they should. I know this because I have been affiliated with a public institution.Deresiewicz's critique, you have to understand, was not about individuals. It was about the culture at these institutions. I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't say that an ivy league education makes you pretentious. He's saying it re-produces an elite class that has internalized the belief that what they got, they earned by the sweat of their brows, while forgetting that they also benefited from a substantial amount of privilege and good fortune.I recommend Shamus Khan's "Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School." At one point he argues persuasively that the reason that the privileged can often so easily interact with people from other classes is that they are trained to do so in preparation for managerial positions.
"My students are all very sweet people individually, but that doesn't mean that there isn't an institutional culture that instills in undergraduates a sense of their own exceptionalism...they speak about the thing they are writing about from the privileged position of the one who knows better....Part of that involves convincing the students that they are the creme de la creme."its not just the elite schools that tell us that we're great, it's all the laypeople we meet on the street, or all your high school teachers or friends' parents or relatives back home who tell you're that you're great and exceptional and that society is fortunate to have us as leaders. it also comes from years of us sitting in classrooms (not knowing we were destined for an ivy league school), and having our peers turn and look at us whenever no one else knew the answer. we were socialized to think that we know best.
As a class '16 Yale student, I can say that this really hits home. Just by the comments themselves it is easy to perceive the natural resistance to her points, just because they were made by someone who is an "ivy league student." If she sounds smart when she talks, what is she supposed to do? Never talk again so it won't "offend" others? All of my other friends are going to state schools and they are incredibly awesome, smart, and have lots of potential to become very great people in the world. I always look up to them and will always remember every lesson I've learned in over 6 years of friendship. But they are extremely proud that I am going to my dream school, as they saw me slave over my work, get 2-4 hours of sleep a night and juggle 11 courses, extracurriculars and dedication to my own work. However, I have studied all my life on scholarships and do not come from a well-off family. My parents don't even own a car. And yet I feel incredibly welcome at Yale, although people keep trying to say that everyone there is elitist. Yale was the school that gave me the most financial aid, and with no loans. I was a kid who suffered bullying for reading too much when I was younger, and to date still have to hear a lot whenever I took books to parties, because I didn't want to compromise my social life, but also didn't want to get behind on work. It wasn't an easy path. I hate it when people diminish my hard work and just throw the name 'pretentious' at me just because I am going to Yale. It's a college like many others, but for ME (not for all), it was the perfect fit, and I am so happy and proud and feel so FORTUNATE to be given this opportunity. Willa shows very well that sometimes it's "apples and bananas," and I know of amazing people who unfortunately did not get in as well. So yes, I feel super lucky, but I do intend to use all of the resources to achieve better things for our society. How does wanting to make a difference make me pretentious? If I was proud of going to an equally fine education school, albeit not as well known, would I not be pretentious then? Is it just because I say "I'm so excited to go to Yale!" that I'm pretentious? I heard that a lot, and I just got in 3 months ago. Does working hard for a dream make me a douchebag? It seems very hypocritical. We're okay when people start doing drugs because "it's normal" and "it's their own life, they do whatever they want," but we're not ok with someone studying like a madwoman to get a good education in a place where I feel comfortable at, after so many years of feeling slightly displaced? I'm a "normal" (whatever that word means) person. I watch Gossip Girl and Glee, go to parties, am insecure sometimes, dream about prince charming, love going out with my friends, smiling, dancing... does liking to read Plato make me suddenly weird, pretentious and douchey? Should I read 'hunger games' instead (which i also read and liked!) just because it's more 'mainstream' and 'accessible'? Quite contrary. It seems like the people who argue that who are actually pretentious, not the other way around. Great cartoon Willa!
94th percentile,Willa's brother here. She actually did go to public school. I would guess the reason she didn't find Princeton warped is due to the fact that nobody walks into Princeton expecting it to be representative of your average high school. Of course it isn't. Her point is more that Princeton is not necessarily exclusive to the wealthy and upper middle-class as Deresiewicz makes it seem. Sure, no one at Princeton is an average Joe, but I don't think elite colleges inject a sense of entitlement and superiority into its graduates. It has to do mostly with upbringing and life experiences. A millionaire's son at a state school will still never know what it's like to be a plumber or receive food stamps."we were socialized to think that we know best."^Definitely. Although I partly disagree with the comic since I'm pretty sure Willa has always been humble, the sheer amount of praise she received in high school was insane. She was definitely deemed by her classmates, teachers, and the media as "special" and "on a completely different level" from her peers (and all the evidence supported it.) I believe that if she didn't go to an elite college, she would continue to be surrounded by people in awe of her (analytic) intelligence, and would continue to be treated as "ridiculously special" rather than the "sort of special" brought on by being surrounded by people better than you at many different things.Personally, I believe it likely that many Ivy Leaguers do feel some sense of privilege, not because these institutions tell them they're the best and brightest, but because everyone does. It is not just elite colleges that support the ideal of a meritocratic elite, it is mainstream America as a whole. Then again, I'm still in high school so there's not much I can say on the topic.Congrats Willa on the popular and controversial comic!
Just wanted to clarify a statement in the last comment before someone pounces on me: You will be surrounded by "people better than you at many different things" at any college, but when the focus is academic success, the competition is much tougher at an elite school.
Willa, I would be intrigued to hear you respond to alexanderrp's comment above with regard to the difference between individual students' character and institutional culture.To those of you making ad hominem attacks on the author, you'll notice that she hasn't engaged with you, and most people in this discussion won't.
I'm relieved to know that structural inequalities don't really exist and (more importantly) that the American education system does not play a role in reproducing any hierarchies. People who make their way to the ivy league are either "lucky" or really "hard working." They may thus feel justified in the privileges that they enjoy. Ah, if only the bootstraps myth could really be confirmed by one anecdote! Our educational institutions value certain kinds of intelligence, and tend to cater to those who are abled, native English speakers, as Deresiewicz correctly notes. (Just check out the income gap in SAT scores or the racial gap in GATE enrollments. Or, read some actual theory by a host of scholars who focus their work on pedagogy and ethics).
Ok i'm no ivy leaguer but I think the answer to the implicit differentiation problem is y=1/x^2(1-x^2)
The cartoon is cute, but I think it sidesteps the real point. As Princeton students it's common for us to have a knee-jerk reaction to defend Princeton against the stereotype that everyone there is elitist. And if it's socioeconomic elitism we're talking about, then sure, it's just a stereotype. But the elitism and sense of entitlement that Princeton cultivates is of a more intellectual nature.Bear with me here while I project my own experiences onto you. You mention being the object of much praise before college. I would venture to say that's a pretty common experience for Princeton students. But even though you're now among all these people who are better than you at so many things, you haven't forgotten what it felt like in high school to be the best. And you're okay not being the best at Princeton because, hey, it's Princeton, and you're not supposed to be the best there. But it doesn't bother you because you know that compared to everyone outside of Princeton, you're still pretty damn smart. High school proved that. You'd be totally justified in thinking that. But it's inherently elitist.And you can't tell me that you're immune to the feelings of pride that come from seeing your school at the top of college rankings. Surely you feel an ounce of superiority over all the people whose college didn't make the list or who, God forbid, didn't even go to college. Or do you believe that all college rankings are bogus? There are real and material reasons why going to Princeton is a better experience than going to some random big state school--from the caliber of the people you meet there to the superior quality of the instruction to the lasting effects of having the Princeton name on your diploma. And after going through the extremely demanding rigors of a Princeton education, it takes immense strength of character to not feel at all superior to your high school classmates who partied and cheated their way through state school.So I guess what I'm saying is, I still think Deresiewicz was on to something. I already felt "special" by the end of high school, and the Princeton experience only amplified that feeling. I do think that my Ivy League education made it harder to talk to my plumber. But maybe it's just me and Deresiewicz alone in that camp.
obviously deresiewicz doesn't refer to every single ivy league student. he's pointing out that from what he has observed, ivy league students conform by and large to the parameters that he defines. telling us the story of your life is not a response to his claims. we still don't know if you're an outlier or if his observations are acute for the most part. so could you give us a more direct answer to your perception of the culture around these institutions and the attitude that is inculcated in ivy league graduates on a larger scale, from what you have seen? and how do these differ for deresiewicz's?
Thanks for this comic! I really enjoyed it and I'm glad to know that other people feel this way. I do think that humility is a virtue that will make us stronger eventually. Have a great summer!
As a recent Princeton grad, I'm going to go out on a limb and contradict the prevalent view amongst most of my friends who are reading this...I don't intend for my argument to in any way diss Willa, since I know her from our eating club and I know she's a great person, but I also think she misunderstood the point being made in Deresiewicz's article.Princeton and the other Ivy League schools do breed a sense of entitlement. Sure, as Willa mentions, at a place such as Princeton one is surrounded by people that are better than you at practically everything. However, although one may think of that as a humbling experience, it only teaches you to be humble with respect to certain people. People who are successful, well-bred, motivated, intelligent, etc.;these are the types of people that live in the “Orange Bubble”. The Ivy League schools may have a lot of diversity in terms of race, nationality, and even class, but they do not contain the average person who may not work as hard or is not as naturally gifted. So when we go to Princeton we learn certain behaviors and interactions that only prepare us to communicate and work well with people like ourselves. Since these sorts of people also tend to be clustered in certain industries, we inadvertantly gravitate towards those careers after graduation. Therefore, we perpetuate a lifestyle and community that increasingly isolates us from the rest of society. In general, I find that most of us believe that we deserve this as recompense for our years of hard work, but what we don't even realize is that we have segregated ourselves to the point that we don't know how to communicate with people outside our social circles or connect with their daily greivances. I am not so sure that this sort of institutional sense of entitlement is paricularly intentional or simply a product of the Ivy League. The truth is that it exists at all levels of society. Ivy League students feel superior to people who went to state schools, state school students feel superior to those at community colleges, and people at community colleges tend to feel superior to those individuals who never even finished high school. Most people tend to judge one another at every possible level if it can make them feel good about themselves. The Ivy League and education is just one level in this chain, but it also extends to practically every facet of life. There is a sort of inherent superiority complex associated to our priveldged standing in society that makes us think of ourselves as better than most others.Do I feel a sense of entitlement from having attended Princeton?I try not to, but I would be lying if I were to say that I did not. Likewise, I think it would serve well many of my peers if they took the moment to realize that they are not as humble as they claim to be. We are entitled and most of us live in a world quite unlike the rest of humanity, but we should remember that that doesn't make us better than anyone else. If we see a homeless person begging on the street, we are no different than they are and we should afford that individual the same respect and dignity that we might to our boss at work. I know that I don't usually live up to that ,and I'm pretty sure none of the people I went to school with do either. So let's stop pretending that we don't feel some entitlement, because we all do.
@Juan - sounds too theoretical to me. Empirically, there are plenty of entitled douches AND amazing, humble, down-to-earth folks at Princeton and other ivy leagues. If you are going to talk about how MANY douches...run a funded survey + stats study. Otherwise we are really just guessing. My finger-to-the-wind guess: a higher correlation of "self-entitled" individuals would be more a bi-product of their upbringing rather than any social or academic influences during college.I definitely take issue with the idea of only being able to effectively interact with people "like ourselves." That strikes me as downright foolish. I interact all the time with people of hugely varied degrees of intelligence and privilege. Some of my favorite interactions have been with the homeless on the streets of NYC. This topic has started to feel more like a discussion around the (arguably) compromised moral fabric of our entitled generation rather than social influences of the ivy leagues.
If we're turning this into a discussion mostly about the "interacting with only other Ivy-like people"... I have to agree with Tyler wholeheartedly. As someone who graduated from Princeton to spend the last 4 years becoming a performing musician, most of my colleagues and best friends now went nowhere near an Ivy-league institution, some not going to college at all. And we all get along splendidly.As for Julianna's point about not getting along with high school friends who enjoy "wild weekends"... many of the most elitist douchebags (if we're using that as a term) I knew in undergrad were the ones who were having the wildest weekends in the greatest number. And who still do, I'd wager. Seems to me that has a lot less to do with the Ivy League elitism and more to do with personal preference.And yes, there's always going to be a mix of the humble and the proud, wherever you are. I can remember having many conversations with friends at Princeton complaining about the pervading sense of entitlement that seemed to affect some of our colleagues. But that was some, not all, and again deferring to Tyler, that seems to be an issue with entitlement in our generation more than in any specific university. And, it stemmed from who they were and where they came from long before they arrived in central NJ. Is entitlement and douchebaggery an issue, and one that could indeed be worse with our generation? I'd say yes. But I don't think it's something that can be pinned on the Ivy League.
Thanks so much for this! My friends' scoffing is driving me crazy. I can't speak about even the most mundane topics having to do with colleges anymore.-Penn student
Ms. Willa! I love approach you are taking, posting a comic to respond to an Op-Ed. I look forward to see where you go with this blog. I hope to see more of this-- long-form comic reels in dialogue with pieces from American Scholar, Atlantic Monthly, NY Times, the usual suspects. Keep it up!
This is awesome and so true. :) I am glad that someone is putting this out there!
I relate to this comic and enjoyed it, but you're missing a huge point. Elitism isn't just about thinking you individually are smart; it's about thinking people like you are the best kind of people. Ivy educations tend to trade egomania for academic snobbishness, in precisely the way you aptly described.If you want to write to a broad audience and explain why Princeton didn't make you elitist, you have to show that you value the life experiences of people who didn't go to Princeton or wherever. It's not enough to say "I didn't say Princeton was the only place to learn humility!" It's not enough to explain your own experiences; you must demonstrate some understanding of others' perspectives. I learned this lesson the hard way, and now it pisses me off to see people congratulating each other for elitist thinking. I don't mean to sound harsh. We do get a lot of benefit by meeting people from other countries and backgrounds, but you can meet more diverse people in New York City. You shouldn't only want to talk to your plumber when they show up to fix your house; you should realize that they have a whole life outside of plumbing. You should want to talk to random people you meet at the bus stop. To people you always pass by when you're in a hurry. You should think, when you see someone on the street, about whether you're even able to imagine their lives outside of your interactions with them--or whether you only care to see if they might rob you. You should truly value the lessons learned from people outside of your family and your Ivy friends.I still struggle with this stuff, because it's definitely awkward when people find out I went to Harvard. But not half so awkward now as it was before I got over myself; in fact, I probably sound harsh because you sound like a past version of myself. Please, either admit that you need to learn how academic privilege works, or demonstrate that you already have.
Fellow Ivy grad here.Deresiewicz's argument is that elite institutions help perpetuate a false sense of superiority/entitlement and make it harder for students to relate to others who aren't like them. In some ways, I think this is true, but not for the reasons Deresiewicz states. If anything, I think Deresiewicz's thesis is correct when you actually take into account the spirit of Willa's comic.Many people who get into the Ivy League come from EXTREMELY supportive families. Note that I don't necessarily mean "rich." One thing that seems to hold true for a vast majority of students is that they had parents who were there for them in some way, even if they were poor. Many of my peers had college-educated parents as their lifelong sources of wisdom. If you don't have that father you can talk math with -- or that mother who's willing to pick you up/drop you off for after-school activities -- or someone who's willing to cover your 11th grade lab fees -- or that family-driven sense of academic motivation -- it's very difficult to get ahead. As a result, Ivy admits generally don't know what it's like to *lack* that support. Elite institutions give privilege to those who are already privileged in some profound way, and this is where I think the "false sense of entitlement" comes from. Too many people think that everything they've earned is a result of their own blood, sweat, and tears without truly acknowledging how much of an impact their starting conditions had on their success. Furthermore, support fosters ambition, which makes it easy to think something is wrong with those who live lives that don't require much ambition to achieve. Ivies do nothing at all to allude to this, and I think that is what Deresiewicz was trying to critique. Deresiewicz isn't saying that the schools *cause* these problems. They just amplify pre-existing ones caused by one's upbringing and reinforce social notions that need debunking instead.
Excellent points M: the attitudes in this comic, in my view, are just one more part of Ivy League elitism. I tried to explain why; but anyway, nice clear points about privilege.
I didn't go to an Ivy, but I did go to a 'brand name institution.' Fortunately, my personal experience contradicts almost every aspect of Deresiewicz's article. I don't have stats or surveys, so my own experience is about all I can go on.Deresiewicz claims that going to Duke alienated me from talking to people who are dissimilar to me. On the contrary, I already had trouble talking to "everyday" people before college. Since middle school, I've preferred to talk about politics, religion, philosophy, and law. There aren't many people who share my interests. Universities provide many of us a place to discuss our shared interests. Life will provide us with ways of relating to people with dissimilar interests. After all, if we share no common interests, then the only thing left we have to discuss are the basic aspects of being human. Since most college students haven't really lived yet or dealt with the challenges of everyday life, why would we expect them to relate to people who have? This criticism seems like a farce to me. There will always be people who have experiences entirely different form mine. It will always be difficult for us to strike up a casual conversation. What needs to happen first is for us to educate the other on our experiences, so we have some common ground. This is an area where elite universities excel! Even if its true that only privileged people go to the IL, you still learn to educate others about your life experience and have them educate you. Rich people aren't all the same *shocker*. I have a much greater command of sharing my perspective and reflecting on others' because I had the opportunity to meet people from so many different places. The real elitism is in assuming that your plumber doesn't want to hear about Kant, or Obama, or the awesome book your just read. Educate them about your perspective, listen to theirs, and then you can have a conversation, not before.Deresiewicz apparently is accustomed to hearing students claim that they are better than everyone else. I just don't understand this at all. My friends at elite schools are better at finance, law, science, etc than most random people you would pull off the street. They deserve the jobs they have because they acquired the relevant skills. Even if they got those skills through luck or privilege, the fact is that they have them right now. There is a kernel of truth to this criticism that is intimately tied into the liberal mindset. The idea of requiring people to wear seatbelts because it's 'for their own good' does presuppose that you know better than they do what is best for them, but it isn't a conceit that is peculiar to elite universities. Plenty of everyday people on the street and think that the government needs to pass laws to protect citizens from themselves. It is still, then, a further leap to claim that this mindset implies a generic feeling of superiority. No IL students are clamoring to take away the human rights of everyone else. They might not acknowledge the fact that everyone deserves to decide for him/herself what to do, but that's a broader issue. Even if they argue that they know better what's best for others, they still acknowledge others' inherent worth by trying to help them. If IL students felt generically superior, then they just wouldn't care at all what happens to everyone else.
Also, I want to point out that thinking that your kind of people are 'the best' kind of people isn't at all peculiar to elite universities. It happens all over the country. In group / out group dynamics area basic part of society; they exist everywhere. "The Northeast is more tolerant than the South. Christians are more caring than atheists." This list goes on and on and on. Ivy League schools don't fix this because it is a basic problem with human psychology. Let's not go after them unfairly for a problem that all fo society has to fix.
I just want to leave my own take here, also having graduated from Princeton, but coming from a very humble background where we barely lived above poverty level for many years. During my time at Princeton, I came across students from many walks of life - both those that were from privileged families and those who were the only person in the history of their family to attend college and were only able to attend because of the full scholarship /financial aid they were able to receive. I do think Princeton breeds a sense of entitlement to a certain extent. Yes, there is definitely a little bit of luck of the draw or privileged connections involved, but to even have a chance to be part of that luck of the draw, you need to have demonstrated intelligence and dedication in high school. I know I personally worked my butt off and got myself into a magnet school, enrolled in as many AP courses as I could, dedicated myself to the newspaper and other leadership positions in the school and in my volunteer work.I don't know that entitlement is necessarily a bad thing. It opened doors for me, someone who probably wouldn't have gotten the same opportunities otherwise, and allowed me to finally give my parents financial freedom. It also gave me the confidence to become a leader in the jobs I've taken since college, trusting that I do know best in the subjects that I'm well versed in. It gave me friends who are similarly successful in their own lives and can be an asset to me in the future.I see it as a tool - yes, there can be advantages and disadvantages. For instance, GPS devices are a great invention and almost everyone uses some form of this today. However, for some that are directionally challenged, this breeds an even higher level of incompetence in getting around without their GPS.An Ivy League experience will be what you make of it, and it could make a socially unaware person even more incapable of interacting with 'regular' people, but I don't believe the purpose of college is to make you a socially acceptable person. It's to give you the tools to be successful in life and in your career, which I believe it does.
In defense of this comic and in response to the article in question, I just ask one question, If I cannot hold a conversation with my plumber because I am not well-versed with the superiority of the Red Sox (and clearly this is my school's fault and not my own for not reading the sports section), is it not a disadvantage of his education/experience that he cannot hold a conversation with me about the theory of relativity?This question is purely rhetorical. My point is, blaming the elite education system for your personal inadequacies is not a symbol of alienation from the community as the original article argues. In fact, it strengthens the author's elite mindset, which I believe would have existed regardless of his alma mater.I would also like to point out that not every elite grad ends up in Wall St. or runs for President. In fact, some of the greatest discoveries have been made at these elite institutions where big questions are certainly asked.Great comic. I do believe that our inquisitive nature led us to ivy-leagues and in no way has that education stifled my curiosity.
Along the lines of pastwatcher and M:Actually, Willa, emphatically trying to prove one's humility is exactly pretentious. A truly humble person does not talk at length about their humility in an attempt to gain recognition for it. In fact, doing that is definitively not humble."I was curious and inquisitive as a child and I worked hard and I got good grades and I got good test scores and I'm really smart, but I'm humble too! Even though I start almost every sentence with the word 'I'. See, I can even prove that I'm humble. See?"In the end, your comic supports a common stereotype about the Ivy League, that Ivy Leaguers demand recognition for everything and anything about themselves. You haven't corrected any misconceptions about the Ivy League. You may have reinforced them.
@Tyler – I think that the basic misconception you and other people are making is that entitlement somehow makes a person a douchebag. That assumption is simply not true. Most people at Princeton I know are genuine and caring individuals, but they are still elitist. Our elitism, however, is subtle and is more the result of indifference towards others than any concerted effort at being derisive. As a result, we create an internal hierarchy of people that then decides how we interact with them. We thus rarely see individuals who are not as intelligent or as ambitious as us to be our equals. So when we meet that homeless person on the street, sure you might be able to interact with them, crack a few jokes, give them a few dollars, and then move on with life. What most people won't do is invite them out to lunch, hang out with them on the weekend, or, dare I say, try dating them. If you met someone who immediately rejected you as a friend or future spouse based on your position in society, surely you would think them to be elitist too. If we'd like to see our elitism at play and quantify it, let us just look at who is in our network of facebook friends.
Hardly a rebuttal to a 5400 word essay.
Nice comic, Willa. Beautifully argumentative.However, I'm noticing that most people are focusing on the argument of whether going to an elite college makes you elitist. Deresiewicz does open his article by drawing you into that debate, I think he makes a subtler point (two, actually). By the end, he's saying something more along the lines of "Because elite colleges train their students to be part of an elite class, they also tend to nurture elitist thinking" and "It is not necessary to be part of an elite class to live a fulfilling life."So he's not saying that all Ivy League grads are pretentious douchebags. He's not saying that Princeton tried to make him a douche. He's saying that because Princeton trained him to be conventionally successful, he lost sight of the lives of those who weren't educated as he was. He's lamenting his observation that because Ivy League schools put their students on the track to elite jobs and roles, their students often don't explore opportunities off that track, which more often that not leads to their not making friends with, conversing with, empathizing with, caring about, and understanding people off that track as well.So yes, I'd like to agree that I don't think all Ivy League students are elitist, and that some are genuinely humble people who can connect with everyday folk. But as an Ivy League student myself, I will say that I agree with Deresiewicz's point that "the disadvantage of an elite education is that it’s given us the elite we have, and the elite we’re going to have." Though the Ivy League doesn't teach us to look down on plumbers, or even cause us to lose the ability to converse with and genuinely connect with them, it does foster the mindset that to become a plumber, a cashier, or even a teacher at a public elementary/middle/high school is somehow a waste of our education, an education that was supposed to put us on the path to becoming professionals like doctors and lawyers, wealthy businesspeople and entrepreneurs, and leaders in the fields we end up in. And because that undervalues the lives of plumbers, cashiers, and schoolteachers, isn't that a form of elitism?
I'm an ivy league grad and I have two, in some ways contradictory things to say:1. I completely agree that structural inequality not only exists but is at the foundation of contemporary American society. What's more, I didn't fully realize this until I got to an ivy league school and noted that a large percentage of my fellow classmates were not only white but also from affluent families. Many of them had attended elite boarding schools and were the children of parents who had also graduated from ivy league institutions. That being said, I don't think the answer is to attack the ivy league but rather to address the larger problem of structural inequality THROUGHOUT American society. I find it incredibly frustrating that ivy league students and graduates are becoming the scapegoats for the racial and class inequality that essentially every well-to-do white American (and in the case of racial inequality, white Americans of every economic background) helps maintain and perpetuate. The reason this frustrates me is due to the second point I would like to make:2. Growing up in a predominantly white, affluent town, I never really felt socially accepted by my peers. Sure, I had a small group of friends, but all of them were what you would call 'nerds'. I didn't get my first kiss until I was nearly a senior in high school and I spent a fair chunk of my life lonely and, at times, miserable. One of the reasons I wasn't accepted was because I was much more interested in reading books, thinking about philosophical questions, and discussing current events than I was in discussing who was dating who or reading the latest gossip magazines. Mind you, I'm not saying one group of interests is better than the other, but while I was growing up I was consistently told by my peers that my interests were 'lame'. I was, in other words, 'not cool.'Perhaps partly as a result, I set my sights on getting into a good school. This meant working almost every hour of everyday, Saturdays and Sundays included, on homework. One of my friends, also from a wealthy, white family (and the child of two very successful families) would spend her weekends hanging with friends, going to movies, etcetera. I sacrificed all of that to get into my dream school (she ended up going to a good state school). Fast forward to college and I suddenly was surrounded by people with similar interests. I cannot explain what a relief it was to finally feel not only accepted but also appreciated by my peers. If I wanted to talk about the current state of the european economy with someone, it was suddenly 'cool.' In conclusion, I 100% believe that my white privilege played a huge role in getting me into an ivy league school. I do not agree, however, with the conclusion that all ivy league grads are elitist. As I have shown, I spent most of my life rejected by the 'elites' in my town, high school, etc and I made many sacrifices that my peers chose not to to get into an ivy league. Now that I have finally begun to accept who I am and am finally feeling valued by those around me I am being told my new-found self-confidence is pretentious? I think we as Americans are losing sight of the real problems here. We should be working on the structural inequalities that restrict who has the opportunity to attend a good school, which is not a problem solely caused by ivy league schools or by ivy league graduates. Although I'm furious that my classmates who came from wealthy, white families and excluded me from social events because I wasn't 'cool' enough are now turning around and calling ME elitist and pretentious, I also know there are millions of people out there who really were unfairly denied access to a quality education.
I enjoyed Willa's comic as I think her views were nicely expressed. By this point in the comments section all who came before me have addressed most of the pitfalls in Willa's comic. However, most people forgot the part of Deresiewicz's (Mr. D hereafter) article which was most poignant to me and a part that was also left out by Willa. My personal experience has validated much of Mr. D's point about how there is a specific paradigm in which students -- all students -- are asked to conform to. He couldn't be more accurate about the students who "game the system" to make it into an Ivy League school. I will be attending a large public university in a few months so forgive me for my bias, but the students I saw who were selected by the elite universities were the students who worked very very hard to make sure their GPAs were top notch and their SATs scores at the 99th percentile. Intellectual curiosity was a foreign subject to many of them. Mr. D. directly refers to these kids in his piece and I give him much credit. I acknowledge that the structure we have in the US likely fills state universities with the same type of students who are just not as inherently gifted as their Yale counterparts. Yet, counter-intuitively, the more intellectually curious end up in state universities because they didn't care to take 15 AP courses and be a "leader" in 3 clubs they didn't like. He doesn't deride an Ivy League education for the same reasons that are popular. He is in fact making a deeper claim about the culture of academics in the United States where academics is merely a means to a career -- not a cultivated mind. The Ivy League students above me have already substantiated Mr D's claims and have done so word for word at that. The Ivy League culture is to fit into the system as much as possible and achieve highly within it. It excludes trivial things like passion, intellectual curiosity, charity and virtue. If Ivy League is a factory for the consumption of Wall Street HR departments, what does it say about the individuals who go to such institutions?It likely says that social status derived from wealth is the great parameter on which even the "best" and "brightest" minds judge themselves by. It seems to me that the best among us would be less concerned with such things and more concerned with hard virtues. So I arrive at my subjective conclusion that elite universities don't actually acquire the best and brightest (not by my definition of best and brightest anyway). So you see, being elitist is not entirely bad if you ARE indeed superior to other people. I would encourage Dr. Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa to feel superior to Hitler. Although this illustrates an extreme example, the basic concept holds true. Altruism, charity and benefit to society ought to be the yardsticks -- not intelligence, education, occupation and wealth. Critics, please understand that I'm not talking about ALL Ivy League students/graduates. I am not actually even talking about just the Ivy League. The problems that society in general faces are magnified in elite universities. Without doubt, they are designated as elite because of what society at large values most. This pitiable condition won't be changed unless we change our implicit values. I'm sorry, it seemed Willa and the rest of you ignored this point that Mr. D made.
Willa,This is a very nice comic! This is a tough point to make, and I'm glad you took the time to detail the progression of your thoughts and experiences before and during college. I agree with you wholeheartedly!Jon
"[this] isn't a conceit that is peculiar to elite universities"The sort of conceit Deresiewicz accuses us Ivy Leaguers of is the same sort of conceit that is inculcated into almost every single American schoolchild. We are taught from the very beginning that America is special, the best, magnanimous in sheltering the huddled masses, land of the free, unbeatable in just wars, protector of the free world, keeper of the largest nuclear arsenal in history, the center of civilization. In short, we are taught that we are the shit, simply by virtue of having grown up in America. Like Ivy Leaguers are accused of being blind to the human experiences of the plumber (and therefore unable to connect with him), the entire American public is raised to be blind to the human and cultural experiences of all other peoples on this earth.
America: we know whats best for the world! we're so awesome, everyone wants to live here. we speak english, so everyone should speak english!we dont know about other cultures, cant connect with other peoples, and we dont give a fuck, because we expect them to connect with us...and we're going to call the ivy leaguers elitist?
I agree with Willa's comic in the general sense and did not detect a "false sense of humility" in her comic. She acknowledged that she felt lucky for having supportive parents and a chance to attend a top university. She did not feel entitled due to her hard work/scores. Contrast that to, say, Jian Li who sued Princeton because he was rejected despite having perfect SAT scores.Attending an Ivy League can be an exercise in humility since you very quickly learn that even though you grew up as a big fish in a small pond, there are some pretty huge fish out there. It doesn't necessarily mean you are only humble "towards those kinds of people." It means you gain a new sense of introspection -- you no longer automatically assume that you're some kind of infallible genius whose self-worth is defined by brains.However, there's more to it than that. To quote Deresiewicz: "I’m talking about the whole system in which these skirmishes play out. Not just the Ivy League and its peer institutions, but also the mechanisms that get you there in the first place: the private and affluent public feeder schools, the ever-growing parastructure of tutors and test-prep courses and enrichment programs, the whole admissions frenzy and everything that leads up to and away from it. [...] Before, after, and around the elite college classroom, a constellation of values is ceaselessly inculcated."I think he has a valid point here. Deresiewicz criticizes society for how it overvalues higher education, which is dangerous because there are simply not enough spots when it comes to top schools. The kids who gain admission don't always come to the same conclusion that Willa did (via her fruit analogy): "Even though I'm bright and worked hard, I had a good support system and was lucky to get in, while plenty of equally-qualified candidates were rejected for no particular reason." Instead, many think, "I got in because I'm smart, ambitious, and hardworking. I know it's all supposedly a crapshoot, but I probably had an edge. I deserve this." Getting in is seen as success. Not getting in is seen as failure.This notion gets further reinforced as we see Ivy graduates land awesome jobs in finance, engineering, law, medicine, etc. When the Ivy League is constantly offering endlessly fertile fields of opportunities for you to sink your ambitions into, you're being placed onto a life track where efforts are rewarded in a disproportionately handsome manner. It's a phenomenon that doesn't occur as frequently at other schools due to relatively fewer resources. It's very easy for the Ivy League environment to nurture the false idea that your efforts alone got you admitted, and similarly, that your efforts alone landed you good fortune post-graduation -- especially when you look at everyone else who isn't from a top school and wonder why their ambitions, on average, haven't yielded fruit nearly so sweet. *That's* what generates the divide, in my opinion. I don't think it's fair to say that Ivy Leaguers are pretentious douchebags. I also don't think it's fair to say that Deresiewicz is blaming all his shortcomings on his alma mater, either (although the plumber example is a hilariously bad metaphor that derails and improperly recontextualizes the rest of the article). I do think it's fair to say that the Ivy League rat race -- and the Ivy League environment itself -- makes it easy to live in a bubble where ideals of success are readily warped yet nevertheless prioritized. It leads to unfair comparisons against others and skewed characterizations of effort vs. reward, which only serves to perpetuate and amplify the vicious cycle.
Something interesting - if you look at RateMyProffessors.com, a website where students rate their professors on a variety of qualities (helpfulness, clarity, knowledge, etc.), some ivy league schools such as Yale and Harvard average as low as 2.3 out of 5 in an their overall teacher rating while some state schools average in the high 3's. Of course this data wasn't compiled for the purpose of comparing schools and the manner in which it was collected inhibits a perfect comparison, but there is a lot of it and it can raise interesting questions.
Beautifully expressed, I couldn't agree more with this comic.Thank you for so creatively showing this viewpoint to the world.
As a former admission officer, I'd have to disagree with the "randomness" of the process...it was NOT like picking fruit at all:) http://asianameducation.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/an-admission-officers-response-to-willas-world/
asianameducation:I don't think she meant to imply that it was purely random. As I mentioned earlier, there are more applicants than there are spots. This is especially true at Princeton, which is relatively small compared to the other Ivies. You could take every single admitted student -- turn around and reject them -- and refill their spots with equally-qualified people who were initially rejected (many times over).So any time someone is accepted, it means someone else could have been accepted just the same, but wasn't. Similarly, when shopping for fruit, there are plenty of good ones to choose from -- but you don't pick all of them. You pick one of them, and sometimes the reasoning for this isn't clearly-defined. It's subjective, and at the mercy of random chance to some degree.In turn, that's why one feels lucky when being admitted. They could have been passed over for someone else just as good, but they weren't. Sometimes people slip through the cracks (the dud fruits) and are admitted because they look good on paper and know how to fake their way through an essay, too. All in all, the underlying point is that getting into a top school is tough and oftentimes an unpredictable endeavor, and therefore one should feel lucky to get in when there are so many ways to get rejected.
This blog is really only possible from a Princeton student with its grade deflation policy. All the other Ivy League schools, and at most other Universities, 80% of the students get A
Oh, God, the grade inflation is so bad at Penn. Not in engineering, though. There the mean GPA is down in the 2s.Now then, in William Deresiewicz's article, he talks about how Ivy league students are coddled by large amounts of support by the school. Yes, the kids getting into Ivies have lots of parental support and possibly tutors, but I have seen none of the second chances he's been talking about. You can go to seminars on studying at the library and there's professor and TA office hours, but it's only support to make you learn the material. I'm working a lot harder at Penn to stay out of academic probation than I did at high-school to get into Penn.
Stephan, are you sure that your solution is correct? I have attempted to test your equation, but have been having little success. Could you clarify what it is exactly? I tried both y=1/(x^2-x^4) and y=1/(x^2)*(1-x^2). How did you get your result?More importantly though, willa, what is your equation? I have been assuming that it's a differential equation stating that: (d^2/dx^2(y))*y^3+(d/dx(y))*x^2*y+(x^3-1)*y=-2x
I'll like to leave a comment. What about the children of parents who do not answer their questions or worst deride them for an interest in learning instead of doing manual labor? What about the children who were never encouraged to be themselves or to passionately be curious. What about families who find talks about eating healthy, having time to rest, and taking their medications on time impossible to understand. Are you able to interact with them well? Is that related to your education?