Thursday, November 10, 2005

'The Chosen': Getting In'-NY Times Review

David Brooks' review of of Jerome Karabel's "The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton." Normally I am very weary of the impression, often contained in the NY Times, that there are fewer than ten colleges worth attending in the entire United States; however, despite my initial reluctance I enjoyed his review and will buy and read the book.

One part of Brooks' review especially caught my attention; essentially, a 1960s admittance shift, ostensibly meritocratic in nature, by these elite colleges has resulted in a less diverse socio-economic student body. 'The Chosen': Getting In - New York Times: "In 1952, more than 37 percent of Harvard freshmen had fathers who had not attended college. By 1996, less than 11 percent did. In 1954, 10 percent of Harvard freshmen had fathers who worked at blue-collar jobs. Forty-two years later, only 5 percent did."

This observation fits in with Michael Bennet's "When Dreams Came True: The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America" . I have been reading his very compelling argument that the post-war period represented the most dynamic and socially mobile era of U.S. history. The 1950s, long derided for its perceived conformity and dullness, re-emerges in Bennet's book as the decade of true fundemental change and progress. By the way, the then president of Harvard, Conant, opposed the education provision of the G.I. Bill because of its implied threat to the educated elite.


Steve said...

I always felt the east cost schools were considered the best because of the contacts a student makes while there and the following jobs and career help that comes from having well placed mentors. If the number of non-elite children attending these elite universities is dropping, then that could be bad for the country as there will be a reduction in the open/mobile elites necessary for a democracy, I'm thinking of Dye's "Irony of Democracy."

Mitch Kief said...

There are regional differences. For example, California is populated in politics by graduates Berkeley, in the film industry by UCLA, and in business by USC. In San Francisco, at one time, most anyone of importance in city politics had gone to the University of San Francisco.

Having said all that, on the whole, I agree that a degree from a top northeastern school opens a lot more doors than, say, one from Green River Community College. I've noticed, though, that north westerners, for the most part, are not aware of more than three Ivy League schools. I remember a conversation I once had in Seattle with graduate of Dartmouth who was very happy that I had a at least heard of his school. He was willing to overlook that I did not know what state his school was in, and any other claim to fame Dartmouth had other than being the inspiration for the National Lampoon stories that eventually were made into the movie "Animal House."