Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Bestest and the Brightest

Princeton making budget cuts. Harvard's endowment down at least 22 %.
"None of the schools gave data on performance to date of their holdings of more exotic and illiquid investments, such as real estate, commodities and private equities. The expected losses in those categories have led to the bigger, full-year loss estimates"
Like the banks, they are probably hiding loses far beyond what is reported.

Which brings me to an interesting article , by Chris Hedges, called "The Best and the Brightest Led America off a Cliff". I post excerpts below, with comments.
"Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority"
I've long thought that the low status of arts in our schools stems from an authoritarian distrust of people in that milieu. People in the arts are generally perceived as being free-thinking and suspicious of authority figures.
"The established corporate hierarchies these institutions service—economic, political and social—come with clear parameters, such as the primacy of an unfettered free market, and with a highly specialized vocabulary. This vocabulary, a sign of the “specialist” and of course the elitist, thwarts universal understanding. It keeps the uninitiated from asking unpleasant questions."
If someone can't explain an idea simply, then there's a good chance they don't fully understand it.
"The elite schools, which trumpet their diversity, base this diversity on race and ethnicity, rarely on class."
Our current conception of diversity seems limiting. Diversity does not mean equality, and a different skin color does not represent a diversity of class. Silicon Valley is one of the most diverse places in the United States, and one of most unequal places as well. Its tech workers are made up of a recruited elite, from around the world, and the service sector is largely made up of the poor from rural Mexico.
"The tutor told him things like “stop thinking about whether the passage is true. You are wasting test time thinking about the ideas. Just spit back what they tell you.” His reading score went up 130 points."
Teaching to the test. Any teacher whose job depends on it, will encourage it. Parents usually place an inordinate value on high test scores, as well.
"These elites, and the corporate system they serve, have ruined the country. These elite cannot solve our problems. They have been trained to find “solutions,” such as the trillion-dollar bailout of banks and financial firms, that sustain the system. They will feed the beast until it dies."
It takes a massive crisis before long-standing institutions of authority crumble. It took the 'Black Death' to ravage Europe, with a mortality rate of 30%, before the institution of the Church was weakened. Our current crisis , while not comparable (of course), will shake the institutions and conventions of thought in the United States.

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