Saturday, September 27, 2008

Elitist is as elitist does

Another campaign season, another chance for charges of "elitism" to fly back and forth. Let's leave aside for the moment the fact that the word has no meaning if Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild can use it to describe anyone. And let's skip over the question of why mediocrity is more acceptable in a president than in, say, a surgeon or an airline pilot. Would you want a doctor who bragged about being last in his class at med school?

Instead, I'd like to look at the idea that attending a top school necessarily hangs that red 'E' around your neck. I can't say what the Ivies are like, but I did go to MIT, where any notion of one's personal specialness lasts about as long as it takes for the grades on the first exam to come back. Most MIT students were near the top of their high school class. Most will be merely average at MIT. Far from reinforcing arrogance, my time there was a four year lesson in humility.

Do some people come out of top-tier schools convinced that they are God's gift to the world? Of course. But would those people be any less arrogant if they'd floated through a less challenging program with fewer intellectual peers? Somehow I doubt it.

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