Saturday, September 13, 2008

Educational Elitism

I've been thinking about elitism, something often charged as exclusive to the coasts, as in "coastal elites." One of the comments I read somewhere, and I've lost track over the course of the days and sites I've visited, was that there's a certain brand of elitism that looks down on those who attend state schools, especially state schools from the so-called "fly-over" states.

I'm not sure that's true of the West Coast -- at least not in the same way that I suspect it is back East (or "out East," if you're a native West Coaster like I am).

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I went to Oberlin. Oberlin is a very good school. It might even be classified an elite school. The thing is, most Californians have never heard of Oberlin. The snob appeal is completely lacking. And there are tons of high-falutin' schools like that that may vaguely ring a bell, but I couldn't tell you for sure where they are. Swarthmore? That's a school, right?

I remember doing recruiting for Oberlin when I lived in upstate New York and I did a follow-up call on a student. I reached her father and said why I was calling. He told me she had decided to go to another college. I don't even remember the name. The name meant nothing to me. I asked him, "Oh, where is that?" and he fiercely replied, "Virginia! It's one of the finest schools in the country!" I very tactfully added that I had never heard of it. Cuz I hadn't.

I really hadn't. I mean, I've heard of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, there another one? Ivy League, I mean. Why, look, I just googled it and there are eight, aren't there. University of Pennsylvania? Really? Sounds like a state school to me.

The thing is, here in California, going to the state schools is no embarrassment, that's for sure. And I know so many really intelligent people who went to state schools via community colleges that community colleges are no embarrassment either. I think that most people, when I tell them I went to school in Ohio, want to know why I wanted to go there; it's so darn cold.

Goodness knows we have our snobbery, but it's not related to where you went to school. I think we're snobby and elite about our food choices, cuisine, health and lifestyle--matters of taste. There's no NASCAR out in California as far as I know, and I think we may tend to think we are above such things. I certainly think there's a self-righteousness in our political rhetoric, especially among the left-leaning. But I also think West Coasters tend to look down on East Coasters for being uptight, high-strung, and unable to be casual and go-with-the-flow.

The two coasts are not alike, and we get a bit tetchy when it is suggested that we are. So there, East Coasters. We Californians think your way of elitism is stupid. You East Coasters can just keep your educational elitism to yourselves. Who's even heard of your schools, anyway.

1 comment:

qoe said...

Well, there's Dartmouth and there's Brown, and, and, and

But the truth is, it doesn't matter where you went to school, as your school does not make you. You make yourself with the odd bits and pieces of your education, along with further education and life experience.

I know a woman who is one of the most brilliant people in the field of fluid mechanics. She is also a song writer. She is also, unfortunately, the most dysfunctional person on the face of the planet, bless her heart. Writes a great tune, though.

One thing you cannot get from any school, and if you don't have it, and someone couldn't show it to you, then God help you: common sense.

If one could manage to learn critical thinking in college without going down the legal path (undergrad studies would have been the correct time in cognitive development for this type of training to occur... any earlier, and the brain is not hooked up to receive and retain that kind of logical processing), then that is a plus.

Good old, daily coping skills; can you learn them from a college course? No. But life can be miserable without these skills.

Having a internal bullshit meter comes in pretty darned handy, as well.

A prestigious school has a lot to offer, but it can only provide one of the four items, listed above. All four of those items, together, are more important for daily life and functional living than anything else you could learn about.

The other stuff? Well, if you're interested, crack open a few books. I went to college and loved it and learned, but I have read thousands of books since my graduation day, and I am talking non-fiction. Thousands.

Maybe I'm just a Cal State College snob... but, I think not.