Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 18, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PICK A NUMBER....Barry Schwartz writes that the insane levels of anxiety to get admitted to top universities today is, well, insane. What's more, the "principle of the flat maximum" tells us that it's pretty much impossible to predict performance within a tiny group of superstars at the top of the bell curve. So he suggests that we quit trying: elite universities should simply choose students by lottery from among the entire group that meets their standards:

At the very least, colleges and universities should consider doing the following experiment: Put a random half of the applicants through the normal admissions process and the other half through a "good enough/luck of the draw" admissions process. Then track the performance of the students admitted from these two sets of applicants over the course of their college careers.

If there are no major differences in performance between these two groups, then by publicly adopting the "good enough" practice, schools can take a lot of the pressure off high school students so that they can be curious, interested kids again.

That sounds like a very cool experiment. Who wants to go first?

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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Comments

Frist???

Posted by: Joe Bob Briggs on March 18, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

"...so why waste money on the ivy leagues"

For the business/political connections. How many schools have a club with the proven political power of the 'Skull and Bones'?

Having connections is so powerful that an ivy-league graduate with a very mediocre intellect can become president of the most powerful nation in the world!

Posted by: Buford on March 18, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

There are hundreds, if not thousands of four year universities in this country. The fixation on the top few is unhealthy and illogical.

I agree AH. I could've gone to a top school, but I went to Brown University instead, and look how I turned out. I think Brown is just as good as any of the top universities.

Posted by: Al on March 18, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know much about undergraduate admissions at elite colleges, but I wonder: Do they really have a "good enough" bar? I'd have thought they'd rank applications and accept the top n. Figuring out where "good enough" is might be a difficult problem in itself.

Posted by: RSA on March 18, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, by the way, there are around 2,600 accredited four year colleges and universities in the U.S.

Posted by: RSA on March 18, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

They wouldn't have to admit anywhere near 1/2 in order to run the experiment. Just enough to come up with a representative sample of "good enough." 100 per year for 4 years ought to do it.

And it does sound like a very interesting experiment.

Posted by: Daryl Cobranchi on March 18, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

>"Buford, I don't think Clinton was *that* mediocre. Still, you raise an interesting point."

I did not mean imply that all Ivy League graduates are of mediocre intellect... there are plenty of other areas in which they may also be deficient... like personal integrity (etc).

Bitter? Yes. I'll never forgive Clinton for what he did to the progressive movement in this country. IMHO: His lack of personal intregity led to inflicting Bush II upon the planet. With anyone but Clinton proceeding him, it would have been Gore in a landslide.

Posted by: Buford on March 18, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

There's a clear difference between really top institutions and others for graduate education. My school (the tough science and engineering school on the Charles River in Cambridge, MA) simply has a far higher concentration of leading faculty in virtually every department it has than the vast majority of universities in the world. It makes a difference to be around such people, learn from them, and being around fellow students who are of similar caliber. I spent my undergraduate years here as well and, though I would have not guessed that this would have happened when I was a freshman, I have been profoundly changed by the style of thinking that is the hallmark of this place.

People like AH make comments like that because: i) they don't really believe in learning as a pursuit, just as a way to get a job, ii) many of them are jealous for not getting the chance to attend a place like I have, sometimes justifiably so (like if financial hardship got in the way). I have an uncle like this, who is always telling my mother how he doesn't understand why I am getting my PhD, how the program I am in is not really that competetive, etc. etc.

More germane to Kevin's post: this is a very interesting idea. I am going to e-mail it to our dean of admissions.

Posted by: reader on March 18, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

OK, that makes American Hawk a Univ of Texas alumni. (Had never heard of Joe Jamail, but thanks for the clue.) Am amazed to be in total agreement with Hawk's first comment of the thread; not with second so will stop there.

I wonder how much of Ivy race is driven by parents who want bragging rights? Do agree that connections made at Ivies can be useful, but you do find more meritocrats attending state schools, if only due to sheer numbers.

Think the experiment sounds worth carrying out.

Posted by: Grace on March 18, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a bit skeptical of that "principle of the flat maximum." Sure, the bell curve gets flatter out towards the end, but since you'd be comparing equal-volume slices near the edge and, say, on one of the steep slopes, the difference in the difference in heights between the edges of the wide slice out at the end and the edges of the narrow slice towards the center might not be that great. Furthermore, this suggests that everyone has to be measured with the same instrument, instead of just using more-nuanced instruments as you get closer towards the edge. That must be the case, since otherwise you'd think that Ivy league colleges would have no way to discriminate between the students once they get there. Given that they can, it's not so surprising to imagine that putting that same degree of extra effort into looking at applications might also allow finer distinctions to be made than other schools would need bother with.

Posted by: JD on March 18, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

I was once told by the president of the faculty senate of an elite university that the university does not exist for the students. It's a business, and as such it must make decisions that maintain it's prestige and increase it's endowment. A lottery (or at least publicizing that one exists) would not help the universities interests.

Much more important to jump through new hoops for college rankings, enrole a large number of potential big donors, and hire kick ass research professors who can get valuable patents and get press for research and awards. Teaching smeaching.

Hell, if you stress out high schoolers it probably raises your US news and world report rankings.

Posted by: B on March 18, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Reader: hold up on those not at Ivies not wanting to learn; only wanting a credential for jobhunting. Methinks that is too broad a statement. Besides which, undergrads are taught by professors at good state schools, not grad teaching assistants. It's great you're at a top university (maybe "the" top university in your universe), but please do not denigrate others' education.

I always think one hallmark of a good education is realizing how much one does not know!

Posted by: Grace on March 18, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

And what then becomes of the legacies like The Posturer in Chief who do not have any qualifications nor academic records sufficient to be admitted to these schools?

You're not suggesting that their names be sullied by being put in the bag with everyone else, are you. Babs wouldn't like that.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 18, 2007 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Choosing at random from the top would ensure a mix of applicant types for diversity. However, once you have a top category (so, I am not supporting pull-up or whatever), it wouldn't hurt to deliberately try for diversity within that group instead of picking at random. Diversity in college admissions is already done about urban/rural, in-state/out-of-state, legacy/non-legacy, rich/poor, etc., so deliberately trying to get racial diversity isn't really the bad kind of reverse discrimination that righties claim.

Posted by: Neil B. on March 18, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

But there is already a lottery system in place, though the pool is not restricted only to the qualified applicants.

It's called the accident of birth.

Posted by: gregor on March 18, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Besides which, undergrads are taught by professors at good state schools, not grad teaching assistants. - Grace

Half of my classes in my major field were with the head of the department - a brilliant man, just ask FASBy. The only TA's I ever had were Chinese in the Math Department.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 18, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Something about "I got into Yale because I won the lottery" doesn't strike me as fitting in to the ethos of our age. People want to be able to say they got where they are on merit, whatever the truth of the matter. Sure, I understand about the requirements here, but "Lottery winner" would potentially trump "1400 SAT" in the minds of lots of people. And something tells me the administrators of these schools enjoy, on one level or another, the thought of all those people out there writhing desperately trying to get noticed. However practical the idea is, I don't see it happening. It's too egalitarian for where we are as a society.

Posted by: Steppen on March 18, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, I don't think you'd tell those so admitted. It would screw up any follow-up studies. The trauma, ya know?

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 18, 2007 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Won't happen. I do alumni interviews for Harvard here in Iowa. They get more than 21,000 applicants and can admit 2,000 (for 1,600 spots in the freshman class). At least 80 percent of the applicants are qualified.

One thing I've learned from admission officers who come here is that they are striving for "balance" in all kinds of categories. A lottery drawing, say, 15 percent from the pool of qualified applicants might not produce geographical balance or balance among extracurricular skills (for instance, they might admit too many string players when the orchestra needs horns).

Posted by: desmoinesdem on March 18, 2007 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

My daughter is applying this year, and it's been hell. (Much worse than when daughter #1 did the same thing 5 years ago.) Not all schools accept the common app, which means different essays, a different mix of recs and forms, deadlines, transcripts, etc. Nine different schools want nine different things. And on top of this, there's scholarship apps, which are just as convoluted.

I'd love for her name to go into a lottery. She's essentially picked schools from a hat, since there was no way to visit them all before being accepted (we're overseas). So why shouldn't they pick her name from a hat?

One of her essay questions was to write about a challenge or hardship. She said the biggest challenge she faced in school was filling out all the darn applications!

Posted by: KathyF on March 18, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Grace - sorry I left a misimpression that I was only talking about 'Ivies'. I mean every really top flight research institution in the comments I made (that includes places like the Texas-Austin, so if that's where American Hawk is from then I'd actually say that he did have access similar to what I have here at MIT - Texas-Austin is a truly great school). So really what I was criticising was American Hawk's framing the issue in terms of salary - I still stand by that. If that's really the lens you're going to look at the issue through then I have no choice but to conclude that you are only looking at college as a means to a good job and nothing else.

Posted by: reader on March 18, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Look in most cases we're talking about a group of kids who have already won that most important of all lotteries: they were born into an affluent upper-class family. It's about status anxiety within that highly privileged group.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 18, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

More looney lib philoshy from the web's resident looney lib, Kevin Dum.

He wants everyone to "feel good" about themselves. He wants to take all the disappointment in life away. What happens when these kids get in the real world and mommy and daddy can't protect them anymore?

This country is a meritocracy. The best and brightest get rewarded commendurately. But socilists like Dum want to takes the most productive members of society and share it with the welfare queens in their palatal crack houses.

Posted by: egbert on March 18, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's just so fitting that we have the comments from MsNThrope and egbert just sitting there side-by-side for all of us to laugh at. Just a perfect encapsulation of both ridiculously cartoonish positions on either end of this debate. No nuance, no appreciation that this is a complicated problem in which both sides contribute to the actual truth. Is it all an upper-middle-class status problem? Is it true that America is the perfect meritocracy? I think you can define whether a person is reasonable or not by checking his or her answers to these questions: if he or she says 'yes' to either it's probably a good idea to stop listening.

Posted by: reader on March 18, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

What bothers me is no reason why anyone who wants the type of education one can get a a top flight university should be not be able to get it. It is not like there is any shorage of resources to provide it. At the undergraduate level, the faculty at just about any state university could provide courses equivalent to those schools without a problem.

The truth is that most of their students do not want demanding courses, and the faculty has to serve the needs of the students it has. But that does not mean that any student who wants to have the chance to take the most demanding courses, should not have the opportunity to do so. If there is a shortage of slots at elite universities for qualified students, then the number elite universities should be increased.

Posted by: david1234 on March 18, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Then you have a school like St. John's College, in Annapolis, Maryland, across the street from the Naval Academy. My son will be applying there for 08-09 freshman year, and I'm enamored of it.

They get about 500 applications a year and accept all who are right for the school, about 75% to 80%. Those who are accepted and choose to come keep the school at about 450 kids total, which is what they want.

They have no majors, no lectures, no tests, no textbooks, no faculty ranks beyond tutor, and the only way you can find out your grades is to go to the registrar and ask.

Instead they read books, lots of books, the great books of mostly dead mostly white mostly men, and they talk about them and write papers, lots of papers. They take three years of lab sciences, one of music theory, two of ancient greek, two french, four math, starting with Ptolemy, going through Euclid and Newton, and ending with Einstein and that crowd. They end up with a dual major in philosophy and history of science and dual minors in linguistics and theology.

They call it boot camp for grad school. And only a couple of hundred kids a year really want to go there. I went to Harvard, but now I wish I'd gone to St. John's.

Posted by: anandine on March 18, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

About a decade ago I was accepted to every undergraduate school to which I applied. My parents didn't think the financial aide packages offered at Harvard, Yale, and Duke were realistic (family income about 40-50k most years), so I went to my very mediocre state school on a full scholarship, made lemons out of lemonade, and applied to medical school. I got into a handful of the top 10 US News med schools, and wound up going to the one that offered me a full tuition scholarship.

So did the locale of my undergraduate education matter professionally? Apparently not. If anything, I probably stood out more, because there simply wasn't the same sort of competition I would have faced at a Harvard or Yale.

But still, the number one regret of my life will always be sending in those letters saying I wasn't able to accept my admission into a college I had supposedly earned, despite growing up decidedly middle class in the podunk middle of Nowheresville, USA.

Posted by: Garrett on March 18, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

David, Reader and others--I think there's a pretty major difference between going to a university that has a lot of prestige and one that actually provides a quality education. Prestige in the academic world is based on research, not teaching, and getting a good undergraduate education is based on working with good teachers who care, not good researchers who are more concerned with chasing grant money. I went to a small liberal arts place as an undergrad and am now in a grad program that has one of the top department's in my field, and I can honestly say that I had more access to faculty and learned much, much more as an undergrad at a well-regarded-to-academics-but-relatively-unknown liberal arts school. (I am quitting the grad program with a masters, but that's another story.)

More to Kevin's point, as I think a couple others have mentioned: the differences between applicants to undergrad programs are incredibly small--a few questions on a standardized test one saturday morning can make or break an applicant's chances at a prestigious university, and the problem is that employers, colleagues, future mates, etc., buy into this idea that getting into an Ivy League means you're much smarter and more talented than anyone in a slightly lower ranked school, when, of course, the differences are minimal. The problem with pretending like admission is a meritocracy is that it simply isn't. A good test score, a nice performance for a crew team, or a well-connected parent can "earn" someone a degree that says "Harvard" or filter someone to a degree that says "San Francisco State."

As I think many people here know, MIT is in the process of putting all their coursework and lectures online. And while I would agree that MIT profs are most likely brilliant scientists, I think the experiment will prove what we know--a good part of the reason to go to a school like MIT is to get the connections and the line on the resume. Most of this information--particularly for undergrads--is out there. Undergrads mostly learn and repeat things done by other people. Yes, in the sciences, big universities have more lab equipment. But really, that's about it.

Posted by: brad on March 18, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

We need more universities that function the way our best universities do. The reason the competition has become insane is that we now produce far more high school students ready and capable of that kind of education, so we should end the artificial shortage of elite university education.
Imagine if we had held the production of cars or houses at the same number as our material wealth increased. There would be insane competition just to buy a car or house.

Posted by: Kevin Rooney on March 18, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Wouldn't this needlessly disrupt the top universities' key admission objective - to admit as many children of alumni as possible?

Posted by: DavidS on March 18, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

So there are more bright, highly-accomplished, high school students who met the qualifications for top-notch schools of higher education than there are spaces for them at those colleges & universities?
How did all those public schools manage to create so many highly-qualified high school seniors BEFORE NCLB? Could it be that our public schools haven't been doing such an awful job all along?

Posted by: Suburban Mom on March 18, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno - I really think that it's different to get the course materials from MIT and to actually be taught by the MIT faculty. It's the difference between learning something on your own from one of the great textbooks in a field and being taught by the people who wrote the textbook. When you get taught by the person who derived the result presented in the textbooks, you often get some unique insights into exactly how the person approached the problem - the sort of stuff that doesn't get presented in textbooks or course materials online. That's the real benefit of any serious education - not mastering some body of knowledge but being in a position to approach the unknown.

I hate this aspect of my answer, but there's also the point that some places have a lot more money than others - that usually translates into more research opportunities for undergrads at these places than others. At Berkeley, for example, I was reading how there's a real fear that their undergraduate research programs are going to be virtually gutted - that would choke off a very valuable training ground for graduate school. At richer schools this is simply not a problem. Now the solution to this problem is obviously that we need more federal and state support for undergraduate research...

So I'm still not buying that you can recreate, even at the undergraduate level, a Harvard experience anywhere unless you really are just talking about preparation for dollars and cents issues.

Posted by: reader on March 18, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

I think that Kevin/Barry's experiment assumes that all schools want are students who are academically qualified. Transcripts and standardized tests don't do a good job distinguishing among the top two percent of academic students, so schools have to make admission decisions without such distinctions.

However, schools are looking for students with certain personality traits. They want students who will be able to live apart from their parents and who want to learn something. That is why they make their decisions the way they do. They also want diversity in certain ways.

From the student point-of-view, if you are making your life miserable trying to get into college, then you are a fool. Find a college that is right for you and that you can get accepted to without making your life miserable. Realize that anybody who tells you that you need top grades in high school in order to be successful in life is a worthless idiot.

I graduated from Brown, and my wife graduated from Illinois. I work full-time, and she works part-time. She makes more money than I do, and it's all good because we're both doing what we want to do.

Posted by: reino on March 18, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

If Bob Jones and Liberty Universities are good enough for Republican candidates, they're good enough for the children of our elite ruling class.

Posted by: Mike on March 18, 2007 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

You are aware, surely, reader, that the man who coined the word meritocracy meant it as an ironic joke. As in 'this is not how it really works'. No, We don't have anything like such a state of perfection. We are among the most class stratified societies any where.

Thinking to equate me with the Egg-for-brains troll will get a few snickers from the regulars around here, for sure.

I've had some experience. Nice professional middle class family. The 4BR/3.5B in Thousand Oaks. Widely expected to have a brilliant future. IQ in the top 2 percentile.

Then the divorce and suddenly - well, let's say the trajectory of my life changed radically. I did downward mobile so quickly I got a nose bleed.
Had I become any less bright over the course of a three day trip across country, do you think?

Do I resent this. Bet your pampered ass I do.


"After all, the "merit" in "meritocracy" isn't, at the end of the day, genuine moral worth. Rather, Ignatius is talking about the possession of skills that happen to be in high demand relative to their supply by people who have enough money to buy them. Once upon a time, being able to kill large game was a high-value skill and being able to dominate the low post on a basketball court wasn't. Today it's the reverse. For a while in the 1990s a basic working knowledge of HTML could make you a lot of money. Today in 2006, it gets you very little. These things change. They're essentially arbitrary. It's important, economically, to reward the possession of useful skills to some extent, but we shouldn't confuse this with merit. " Matthew Yglesias, American Prospect

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 18, 2007 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Reader--I see your point, to some extent. There is a difference between learning on your own and learning with people; smart people ask good questions, smart professors have quick but thoughtful responses.

But there are a lot of smart people and non-brand name schools who, for financial or familial or personal reasons couldn't go to the most prestigious places. And, for that matter, the teachers at a state school--or even a community college--will be bright. There are more Ph.D.s who want to teach than teaching jobs. You have to be on top of things to get a professorship. At community colleges, state schools and liberal arts schools, however, professors understand their jobs to be teaching first. At research universities, teaching comes somewhere after speaking on panels, reviewing grants, and writing journal articles. Big universities--or at least the one I'm at--do a terrible job of creating small, cooperative learning environments, particularly for undergrads, who spend most of their time in lecture classes of a couple hundred people (where many of the students sit and check their email in class rather than take notes.) Hell, it often takes me two or three weeks to get an appointment with my thesis advisor. I can't see how that equates to better teaching. I just can't.

Recreating a big lecture isn't that tricky. The one thing you can't recreate is the "dollars and cents issues" as I believe you referred to them. I had a thirty-something roommate with a B.A. from Princeton (and not a great GPA, if I recall.) He once said something like, "Any time I go in for a job interview, when people see Princeton on my resume, I know that I can almost be certain I'll get the job." This was years after he finished the degree, and it still proved, somehow, that this guy was competent, regardless of his employment record. And that, to me, seems like a far greater advantage than the tiny benefit you might have from an anonymous lecture with a brilliant but indifferent scholar versus the insight you might gain from a slightly less brilliant scholar, but one who really cares about teaching, and an actual discussion.

Posted by: brad on March 18, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

This autodidact thanks you, Brad.

Used to gig people who the first thing they wanted to know was where I was educated.

'Oh, Carnegie.'

Eagerly they'd launch into the recognition codes, 'Carnegie-Mellon. Do you know such and such who was at such and such prep?'

'No,' I'd respond, 'the Carnegie endowed library in Lake Charles, Louisiana.'

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 18, 2007 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

I hate this aspect of my answer, but there's also the point that some places have a lot more money than others - that usually translates into more research opportunities for undergrads at these places than others. At Berkeley, for example, I was reading how there's a real fear that their undergraduate research programs are going to be virtually gutted - that would choke off a very valuable training ground for graduate school. At richer schools this is simply not a problem. Now the solution to this problem is obviously that we need more federal and state support for undergraduate research...

So I'm still not buying that you can recreate, even at the undergraduate level, a Harvard experience anywhere unless you really are just talking about preparation for dollars and cents issues.

Posted by: reader on March 18, 2007 at 3:39 PM

And Berkeley is supposedly the jewel of America's public higher education system (apologies to people in Ann Arbor and Charlottesville). Is it any wonder people perceive state universities as inherently inferior? (Sigh.) Of course, it doesn't help that Ivy schools' endowments dwarf those of their public counterparts.

Posted by: Vincent on March 18, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

this is a brilliant idea, both as an academic study - to see whether these admissions committees do any better separating the best from the almost indistinguishable very very good (and i bet they don't) - and, if they don't, as just good policy.

as is noted in the original proposal, the current system creates incredibly perverse incentives - such incentives are created during formative years for adolescents and may also have perverse long term consequences in how they view life and career goals. when you get a handyman to fix something in your house, do you tell him he'll only get paid if he finishes the job in X amount of time? overincentivize behaviors that *can* be observed (membership in clubs, SAT scores, AP classes) and it will be to the detriment of equally important things that you can't.

Posted by: alex on March 18, 2007 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

a follow up point after reading the proposal again. the author makes one argument in favor which i think is false - false in a way that actually *improves* his proposal. he states-

"We like to believe, in our least cynical moments, that the U.S. is a meritocracy... Luck has nothing to do with it.. It is not the case that people always get what they deserve. There just aren't enough top rungs on the Ivy League's (or life's) ladders for everyone to fit. If talented and hardworking people are forced to confront the element of chance in life's outcomes when they (or their kids) fail to get into the "best" college, they may be more inclined to acknowledge the role of luck in shaping the lives of the people around them."

in fact, i think that ex ante, students are better off and face *less* uncertainty under the "random" proposal, because it eliminates correlation between decisions and herding effects once you are in the "top." We’ve all seen this effect – two students who, prior to the application process, seem equally competitive, and then one gets into all the top schools and the other gets shut out.

Basically, the competitiveness of your application once you’re at the top is a random variable that depends on the applicant pool you’re up against. If you’ve specialized in being a varsity fencer and thespian, and you happen to find yourself up against 10 varsity fencer thespians instead of two that year, then you’re screwed. Under the current system, you’re screwed at *all* the top schools, since the applicant pools are basically the same. But if you keep the randomness and eliminate the correlation between school decisions, then the variance of the good outcome (getting into at least 1 top school) is a lot lower.

A good illustration of this idea is a modification on the Ellsberg paradox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellsberg_paradox). Just look at gambles A and B. Suppose you are told that there is a ½ probability that all the other balls in the urn are black, and a ½ probability that none of them are. If you have to choose between gamble A and B once, you’ll be indifferent between.
But suppose instead that you draw 10 balls from the urn instead of 1 for each gamble, and receive the average payoff. Now gamble A will be a lot better – for the same reason that random admissions decisions will be better. You get a new independent draw each time in gamble A, but in gamble B, if you turned out to get an urn with no black balls, then you’re stuck with it for the next 10 draws.

Posted by: alex on March 18, 2007 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Why is everyone assuming that this experiment hasn't already been done, secretly? How would we know if, say, 5% of every class are chosen by lottery and tracked, in sort of a quality control effort? I would be surprised if it hadn't been done. After all, as has been pointed out, the perception of admitting only the top applicants is a valuable asset (even if weren't strictly true) so even if a school does use some kind of stochastic process, they'd be foolish to make it public.

Posted by: George Dorn on March 18, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

"This country is a meritocracy. The best and brightest get rewarded commendurately."

The Lucky Sperm Club:

Donald Trump (I pretty much loathe him but admier how he) admits it.
Bill Gates, son of a millionaire, dropped out of Harvard and wasn't killed or disowned.
GWB got into the Ivy League.

Better trolling, please.

Posted by: ThresherK on March 18, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

But hey, if there were a lottery, then all those people in the Admissions Dept. would be fired, college costs would go down, and the college would have to lower tuition. And all those alum volunteers who interview would have to spend their time on some other activity, like fundraising for poor people. Now we certainly wouldn't want either of those to occur. High-falutin' society would be so much worse off!

I went to Wellesley--two years ahead of Hillary but didn't know her. I would have been much better off at another school--almost any other school.

As for this comment:

One thing I've learned from admission officers who come here is that they are striving for "balance" in all kinds of categories. A lottery drawing, say, 15 percent from the pool of qualified applicants might not produce geographical balance or balance among extracurricular skills (for instance, they might admit too many string players when the orchestra needs horns).

It is my impression that they aren't looking for "balance" but rather for "specialties." Specialties create a campus filled with stovepiped individuals who have nothing in common with any of their classmates because they are all intensely attached to their own specialty. Sounds like a nightmare to me.

Posted by: eCAHNomics on March 18, 2007 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

'commendurately'?

Commensurately.

Truly. Better trolls.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 18, 2007 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

So you want to be successful in life? Don't go mental over trying to get into an elite private university. Go to your state university and study pharmacy or engineering. You'll do very well for yourself.

Posted by: Peter on March 18, 2007 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

This is weird Kevin, and perhaps I'm misunderstanding the point here (or perhaps things have changed a lot in the past 25 years) but when I was interviewing for colleges 25 years ago, I was told that was more or less what was done. And my applications included a couple of ivey league schools. Specifically it was the admissions person at Haverford (I think it was Haverford) who told us (my folks and me) that about 10% of applicants would be accepted right off and about 10% would be rejected right off and of the others all kinds of things were done to select who would be admitted, some of the stuff kind of random. The example given was to that the admissions staff might say "today we'll accept any left-handed piccolo players" or some other odd combination. The next day it would be another odd combination. The reason being that any of the 10 applicants for each position would do well, and sorting out beyond that was mostly a guessing game. I'm pretty sure the other schools reported much the same system.

Posted by: MSR on March 18, 2007 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Rooney is on the right track when he says "We need more universities that function the way our best universities do." But the simpler approach is for the top universities simply to do what other successful universities do. Admit more qualified students.

Posted by: Ross Best on March 18, 2007 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who thinks such a setup doesn't already exist in the Ivies is a fool. How else to explain the waitlisting of a straight A, extracurriculars up the wazoo, and a 2370 SAT at Princeton and the acceptance of the same student at Yale.

The Ivies have been playing this game for years, and so, to a great extent, a lottery exists as to where the highly desirable student ends up.

Posted by: monocle on March 18, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

here's an idea: BUILD MORE F****** universities, get serious about funding them and then you won't have imbecilic notions of lotteries.
has construction of public colleges and universities even remotely kept pace with population growth?

Posted by: secularhuman on March 18, 2007 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

choose students by lottery from among the entire group that meets their standards:

They do so accidentally by basing choices on criteria that are independent of college success, such as: participation in athletics and music programs; community service; "diversity" of ethnic background; ability to pay full tuition; veteran status (military service.)

Posted by: spider on March 18, 2007 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Leave aside the fact they won't do it. Admissions officers won't adopt a plan that reduces the need for admissions officers.

If they did do it, they'd get too many nerds. The idea of constructing a college class is to make one that has an interesting and diverse collection of kids. Yeah, you could make another one entirely from 1600 hundred other good enough kids, but, duh, that means the process is already essentially random.

Oh, except for one thing--legacy admissions. I am absolutely convinced that the admissions policy at Ivy League schools is driven by the desire to choose people who will either contribute to the endowment as alumni or will create an environment so that future contributing alumni will be successful. Hence they admit athletes who are unlikely to do well academically or to contribute. They admit people who are not white or who come from different socio-economic backgrounds from the contributing alumni, because the current world of business requires acquaintance with a more diverse set of colleagues.

The fact that people sweat over putting together perfect high school records, get coaches to help with essays and interviews, do meaningless extracurriculars makes much less difference than they think. They're still gonna lose out to the valedictorian who started on the football team and won the state debate championship. Or to the kid in the middle of the class at Exeter whose dad has a building named after him.

Harvard claims to reject a full class of valedictorians and a full class of perfect SAT scores, every year. It's essentially random now.

Posted by: jayackroyd on March 18, 2007 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

I have a more radical (and of course, more telling) experiment.

Take a thousand identical twins, separate them at birth, send one of them to a top college and give the other no education at all. I’ll bet by the time they are 30 years old, they will be at similar places in society. With the pervasive media of today, no kid could avoid learning all the necessary stuff for life, just by being alive. The colleges of today are a scandalous waste of money.

Better yet, I’ll take the unschooled kids all over, let them see into a vast variety of callings and professions—let them find their interests. Without the classroom to stifle their interests, without all the crap fed them by the man, they will learn to think for themselves and be more creative and less accepting of the standard piffle that everyone is taught to think. They will be way ahead of the college kids.

Posted by: James of DC on March 18, 2007 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like a good idea. Since success is based in part on education and education will be based on luck, after a few thousand years we will have successfully created a race of lucky humans. Larry Niven saw it first in "Ringworld." God knows humans could use some luck to survive.

Posted by: exlitigator on March 18, 2007 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

MsNthrope - I am sorry to hear that things didn't turn out like you wanted. But when you trivialise all the hard work I saw my friends in college put in as just 'status anxiety' you're simply out of line. In some cases? Yeah definitely you're right. But having spent time here I saw that most of my peers were serious about learning the material, not busy wallowing in self-content.

Posted by: reader on March 19, 2007 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

Just to make a couple points.

I think it's pretty fair to say that when it comes to Harvard, maybe Princeton and Yale, there really is a "flat maximum". GPAs are pretty much as high as they can be, likewise SATs. There's no real discrimination.

Having said that, I think that when it comes to mathematical ability, it certainly would be possible to make better discriminations using tests that are more difficult than the Math SAT. It's simply easier to detect real differences even in the most stratisfied regions of math ability.

With regard to "verbal" skills and abilities, though, I think there's little hope for meaningful discrimination at the upper range. Having a larger vocabulary starts not to be so important at the upper range; reading comprehension becomes more difficult to assess fairly; analogies, etc., do little to get at what one seeks to evaluate.

What I'm nearly certain is true is that the full set of Harvard rejects contains far more distinguished people than the relatively small set of those whom Harvard accepts. I wouldn't be surprised that at the upper range of the rejects, the ratio of distinguished people is virtually as high.

This is especially likely because I'd expect that in most areas good "verbal" abilities are far more important than mathematical abilities.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 19, 2007 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

Ex, but that was a cautionary tale, not a prescription! Or didn't you read the whole book? ;p

Seriously, however, keep in mind that -by definition- the people sorting students for admissions to Ivy League schools are in over their head. Even if they knew all the kids well, we're talking about a sample where virtually every applicant is going to be significantly more intelligent than the admissions officer; how do you tell the difference between two geniuses if you're not also a genius?

It works out, well, because in a sense they're shooting fish in a barrel. When you've got huge lists of fabulous students to choose from, you could use a dartboard and draft a good incoming class. (Which is Kevin's point, basically, but as has also been stated, admissions officers aren't going to admit that admissions officers are superfluous or that they do a worse job than random selection.)

It also works out because, in many respects, it doesn't matter a good goddamn which kids gets into Harvard or Yale. If we're talking about our best and brightest, they're capable of getting an education no matter where they are, whether it's Princeton or West Podunk U... and most of them could do it from a Half Price Books if they had a reading list and enough free time.

Posted by: Avatar on March 19, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

James of DC,
I truely hope you are joking. The devaluation of education has already created a situation where Americans cannot compete on a level playing field with foreign exchange students. It's a situation that has gotten worse every year. The sad fact is that the system we currently have combined with a debased value system that rates sports preformance above acedemic achievement has eroded Americans competetitivemess in nearly every field. Do you really want to create a generation of illiterates in a doomed-to-failure experiment because of your hatred for acedemic standards?

Like egbert you seem to believe in a situation in US education that is entirely a product of your own imagination. There are only two successful paths through the system as it stands today and neither have anything to do with acedemic merit: money & luck. An outgoing personality and a couple of good mentors can substitute for a giant wad of cash, but even that can't compete with outstanding skill in a commercial sport and both of these are a matter not of studiousness but of luck. The luck of a very healthy and (usually) very large body combined with the luck of being trained by talented coaches is far more likely to produce a well compensated outcome than similar good fortune acedemically. Neither of these, however, can compete with the luck of being born into a rich family that not only indulges in rampant nepotism but maintians relationships with others of thier class to mutually support eachothers nepotistic interests.

Meritocracy my ass.

Posted by: joe on March 19, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0: Having said that, I think that when it comes to mathematical ability, it certainly would be possible to make better discriminations using tests that are more difficult than the Math SAT.

Kids who are identified as mathematically talented by their teachers or parents are usually given the SAT at an earlier age than usual, say third, fifth, or seventh grade. That's a sufficient alternative to creating a different Math SAT.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

Do they really have a "good enough" bar? I'd have thought they'd rank applications and accept the top n.

First let me recover from having doubled over in laughter at that last statement.

Ahem. Better now. Anyway, yes, they do have a "good enough" bar. The reason for this is that the university needs to accept a certain number of legacies, basketball recruits, and oboists. They limit their choices of these "special admits" from those who make it past the "good enough" bar that the school has set for itself.

Posted by: Constantine on March 19, 2007 at 3:14 AM | PERMALINK

I would have thought this experiment has already been done, given that it's legal for parents to bribe university admissions boards in the US. (I think they call it "donations" or something.)

Posted by: ajay on March 19, 2007 at 6:22 AM | PERMALINK

Why not start the experiment by allowing applicants to opt into a lottery? Base the number of slots the lottery gets on the number of good enough entries received for it.

Get enough guidance counselors to go along. Maybe you'll even get some applicants that would qualify, but didn't want to put the effort into an additional school.

Posted by: crack on March 19, 2007 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

'things didn't turn out like you wanted'

Of all the condescending crap. What a piece of work.

I don't think I'll bother in future with 'reader' who seems incapable of processing that I've seen this issue from both sides. I know of which I speak.

As to hard work. Hmmm...I passed the Foreign Service Exam as an undergraduate in the business school at a mostly undistinguished (that was before a guy in English Dept won a Pultizer and someone else actually scored a Fulbright) state school.

I knew that I wouldn't get a job in that most class conscious of all departments and my circumstances didn't allow for globe trotting vacations or semesters abroad, but I wanted to stand toe-to-toe as it were with those who have arrogated to themselves the mantle of 'Best & Brightest'.

It was highly satisfying to take on Georgetown and Princeton ect grads and grad students and demonstrate to anyone who cared to take notice that I was every bit as bright and I had done this entirely on my own with nothing to call my own but an intense desire to learn. For it's own sake.

"I never let schooling interfere with my education.' Samuel L. Clemens

Mr. Clemens' formal education ended at the the 5th grade. He would not have made the cut for Harvard. But I'm pretty sure I know what he'd make of 'reader' and her ilk.

Everything has its limit - iron ore cannot be educated into gold. --Mark Twain

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Correction: Not a Fulbright. A Rhodes.

Brain fatt brought on by righteous indignation and too much coffee.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

and most of them could do it from a Half Price Books if they had a reading list and enough free time.
Posted by: Avatar

LOL

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

One last thing then I'll quit rising to the bait.

I'm 'out of line' for having an opinion about the behaviors and obsessions of my 'betters'? For daring to call out what I see as status anxiety behavior verging on the pathological?

Sit on it and spin counter-clockwise.

Okay?

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

alex (avh4058@yahoo.com): I was going to point out that I have a trademark on "alex" (lowercase 'a') as a net name, but your arguments are so good, that I'll let it go this time.

Posted by: alex on March 19, 2007 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, this idea of randomly selecting applicants from a qualified pool is nothing new. Prof. Norman Matloff (UC-Davis) has been advocating this for years.

See this 1994 article (especially the last few paragraphs).

Posted by: alex on March 19, 2007 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

David, Reader and others--I think there's a pretty major difference between going to a university that has a lot of prestige and one that actually provides a quality education. Prestige in the academic world is based on research, not teaching, and getting a good undergraduate education is based on working with good teachers who care, not good researchers who are more concerned with chasing grant money. I went to a small liberal arts place as an undergrad and am now in a grad program that has one of the top department's in my field, and I can honestly say that I had more access to faculty and learned much, much more as an undergrad at a well-regarded-to-academics-but-relatively-unknown liberal arts school. (I am quitting the grad program with a masters, but that's another story.)

That's a good point, and it's certainly possible to get as good a classroom education in a less-well known school as at any of the Ivies. However, going to an Ivy League or equivalent college does offer certain advantages hard to find elsewhere, and one of these is the people you meet. I went to Harvard, for example, and I've always felt that I learned much more from my classmates and our late-night and dining-hall conversations than I ever learned in class. I was lucky to be able to meet some brilliant people, and from them I learned how to think.

A corollary to that is that is the life-long network I've developed with these friends. Right now many of my college friends occupy very distinguished positions in finance, academia, government and entertainment, among others, (even, sadly, in the Bush White House), which enables me to draw on a wide and powerful network I never would have had access to had I not gone there. It's impossible to quantify the benefits I'll receive from that over the course of time.

Posted by: Stefan on March 19, 2007 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

You are aware, surely, reader, that the man who coined the word meritocracy meant it as an ironic joke. As in 'this is not how it really works'. No, We don't have anything like such a state of perfection. We are among the most class stratified societies any where.

It was Michael Young (father, oddly, of Vanity Fair lay-about Toby Young) who coined the term in his 1958 book "The Rise of the Meritocracy," and yes, he meant the term more as a warning than as a prescription for how things should be. Young recently had an op-ed in the Guardian in which he noted that

It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit. It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others.

Ability of a conventional kind, which used to be distributed between the classes more or less at random, has become much more highly concentrated by the engine of education.

A social revolution has been accomplished by harnessing schools and universities to the task of sieving people according to education's narrow band of values.

With an amazing battery of certificates and degrees at its disposal, education has put its seal of approval on a minority, and its seal of disapproval on the many who fail to shine from the time they are relegated to the bottom streams at the age of seven or before....

The business meritocracy is in vogue. If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get. They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody's son or daughter, the beneficiaries of nepotism. The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side.

So assured have the elite become that there is almost no block on the rewards they arrogate to themselves. The old restraints of the business world have been lifted and, as the book also predicted, all manner of new ways for people to feather their own nests have been invented and exploited. Salaries and fees have shot up. Generous share option schemes have proliferated. Top bonuses and golden handshakes have multiplied.

As a result, general inequality has been becoming more grievous with every year that passes, and without a bleat from the leaders of the party who once spoke up so trenchantly and characteristically for greater equality.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,514207,00.html


Posted by: Stefan on March 19, 2007 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

What I'm nearly certain is true is that the full set of Harvard rejects contains far more distinguished people than the relatively small set of those whom Harvard accepts. I wouldn't be surprised that at the upper range of the rejects, the ratio of distinguished people is virtually as high.

Yes, I remember when I was in school talking to a professor who remarked that we could have replaced our entire undergraduate class with another equally qualified crop of students at least five times over.

Posted by: Stefan on March 19, 2007 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Thank you, Stefan.

I did indeed read this a very considerable time ago and could not immediately recall the name and citation. It's a failing of mine. I'm not an academic.

Reading list? Don't need no stinkin' reading list. I was inter-disciplinary before the term was invented.

Including talking my way into grad seminars in Advanced Social Psychology at UT-Dallas.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Take a thousand identical twins, separate them at birth, send one of them to a top college and give the other no education at all. I’ll bet by the time they are 30 years old, they will be at similar places in society. With the pervasive media of today, no kid could avoid learning all the necessary stuff for life, just by being alive. The colleges of today are a scandalous waste of money.

I bet not. For one thing, the twin who went to the top college will have dozens of similarly situated college friends who by the time they are 30 will be able to assist his career in whatever field they're in, while the unschooled twin will be, literally, on his own. Not to mention the professors, teachers, etc. the twin in college will have met who can become mentors for him and guide him on his path.

Humans emulate what they see those around them do. I'm much more likely to go on to a good business or law school and then from there on to a good career if I have the example of all my friends doing so and professors encouraging me, rather than if I'm on my own and have to figure everything out myself. The two twins may well become equally intelligent -- but the twin who went to the top college will be far more likely to be successful as measured in terms such as income, career prospects, social status, etc.

Posted by: Stefan on March 19, 2007 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

'With an amazing battery of certificates and degrees at its disposal, education has put its seal of approval on a minority, and its seal of disapproval on the many who fail to shine from the time they are relegated to the bottom streams at the age of seven or before....'

This fate befell me much later.

Junior high. I'd already formed values and aspirations, and vitally important social group expectations as well, which, while they were realistic and perfectly appropriate to my position in the socio-economic pecking order at the time of formation, abruptly became, and through no fault of my own whatsoever, as obtainable as round tip tickets to Mars.

Thus, a compelling need to understand what exactly had happened and why. And a library card.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

An attorney of my acquaintance in Dallas precinct once got off this bit of bon mot:

"So you're the vanguard of the proletariat my mother always warned me about.'

Not bad for an insurance defense guy.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK


That's a good point, and it's certainly possible to get as good a classroom education in a less-well known school as at any of the Ivies. However, going to an Ivy League or equivalent college does offer certain advantages hard to find elsewhere, and one of these is the people you meet. I went to Harvard, for example, and I've always felt that I learned much more from my classmates and our late-night and dining-hall conversations than I ever learned in class. I was lucky to be able to meet some brilliant people, and from them I learned how to think.

I think that's pretty much true at any decent, residential college. I finished my undergrad degree a few years ago, and already, the vast majority of my memories are hanging out with friends--often talking over classes--and not sitting in on lectures or discussions. I don't see why Harvard would be any different.


A corollary to that is that is the life-long network I've developed with these friends. Right now many of my college friends occupy very distinguished positions in finance, academia, government and entertainment, among others, (even, sadly, in the Bush White House), which enables me to draw on a wide and powerful network I never would have had access to had I not gone there. It's impossible to quantify the benefits I'll receive from that over the course of time.

This is the problem, I think. Are universities providing education, or are they serving as a filtering device for employers? Right now, they do both--or attempt to do both. A lot of the stress kids feel in trying to get into a particular college stems from the knowledge that getting into a place like Harvard, Yale, etc. will confirm a ton of professional advantage, even while the educational benefits over any good college will be much smaller. But really, if Harvard's purpose is to be the top educational institute in the country, should it also be the old boys network?

What the original op-ed that Kevin linked to didn't say--probably, because it was written by a professor at one of the top two ranked liberal arts school in the country--is that the educational difference between Harvard and, say, Tufts, is mostly negligible. And one added advantage of the random plan, I think, is that it might help demonstrate that there's not just a flat maximum for 4.0 SAT whizes, but also a flat maximum among 50 or 100 universities in the country.

Posted by: brad on March 19, 2007 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

The emerging trend of kids from the upper 5% of the socio-economic scale, there simply being so few spots in the Ivies and their nearest competitors and there being so many more kids in this demographic, to seek out the more prestigious state schools such as UV, NCS-Chapel Hill, or UT is further disadvantaging aspirants from less advantaged backgrounds who are being shut out of taxpayer supported institutions.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see why Harvard would be any different.

Not different. Just better.

Sorry, sorry! Couldn't resist....

Posted by: Stefan on March 19, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

The Pulitzer was Olin Butler's work on the Vietnamese in South Louisiana...

Stefan: we all succumb to these little lapses.

Smiling.

I'm rummaging for the quote, Emerson?, goes 'all the branches but none of the roots'...

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

There seems to be a lot of talk about the applicants to the "elite universities" and the article cited mentions a lot of numbers, but no on is providing any research to back up what has been said. Are there such numbers? Or are we relying on anecdotes for our information?

Besides, while there is no question that having a Princeton on your resume may shine a brighter light on you, local jobs mostly go to local universities and I doubt that many have actually had to compete against a Harvard graduate for a job in most of America. If you are in a place where this is true, you probably went to the wrong college ;'}

Where are the numbers?

Posted by: mikeyes on March 19, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

When Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked to Henry David Thoreau that all branches of learning were taught at Harvard, Thoreau recalled of his own time there that, yes, "all the branches, but none of the roots."

Ha!

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Besides, while there is no question that having a Princeton on your resume may shine a brighter light on you,

I'm thinking of this attorney with whom I was briefly and superficially acquainted in Dallas. They had a large architecturally significant home in the Swiss Avenue historical district (complete with tax credits! for being so fortunate).

Hung his degree from Princeton Law in the foyer. It was the first thing you saw as you came through the door. Gilt frame.

No, no status display there. Move along. Clap louder.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Hung his degree from Princeton Law in the foyer. It was the first thing you saw as you came through the door. Gilt frame.

Princeton doesn't have a law school. Either he went to Princeton undergrad or he was making the whole thing up.

Posted by: Stefan on March 19, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Yale

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

So shoot me.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 19, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

I've always heard that the Harvard admissions office admitted that, if they took the students they had selected for acceptance and entirely replaced them with a different group, all of whom had just missed being offered a place, no one would ever know the difference. Same number of eventual Rhodes Scholars, CEOs, Nobel Prize winners, etc.

Posted by: David Siegel on March 20, 2007 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

A person who objected to my experiment: (“Take a thousand identical twins, separate them at birth, send one of them to a top college and give the other no education at all. I’ll bet by the time they are 30 years old, they will be at similar places in society.”) did so because the unschooled kids wouldn’t have made the same connections as the university ones. Great reason to go to college, say I. The cream will rise to the top, no matter what you do, no matter how much money you spend trying to stifle it.

Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill gates, all college drop-outs or flunk-outs, did pretty well for themselves.

But I did mislead a little. I meant the unschooled kids (“take the them all over, let them see into a vast variety of callings and professions...”) having seen into so many areas of life that the schooled kids would not have experienced, would not have become lawyers and CEOs. They would be more valuable, self-fulfilled members of society, working at jobs they loved and making a difference—not cogs in that vast wheel of bellicose, unhappy, arrogant, suicidal America Inc.

As for devaluing education, as one person said, I think standard education needs to be devalued. All the little party-hearty kids putting in their time to get that document which they believe opens doors to vast riches, while their parents spend hundreds of thousands of dollars so their kids can get a thorough grounding in sexually transmitted diseases.

Hey, I was conversing with a kid who got a degree in French literature from a big name school a couple of months ago. I asked, “How big a part did Arthur Rimbaud play in your studies?”

The kid said, “Arthur who?” I gagged and he said, “Well, you know you learn the stuff for the tests and then you forget it.” Enough said about American “education.”

Posted by: James of DC on March 20, 2007 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill gates, all college drop-outs or flunk-outs, did pretty well for themselves.

That's three. Meanwhile I can walk down any street in my New York neighborhood and see the fast-food counters manned by high school dropouts by the hundreds.

But I did mislead a little. I meant the unschooled kids (“take the them all over, let them see into a vast variety of callings and professions...”) having seen into so many areas of life that the schooled kids would not have experienced, would not have become lawyers and CEOs. They would be more valuable, self-fulfilled members of society, working at jobs they loved and making a difference—not cogs in that vast wheel of bellicose, unhappy, arrogant, suicidal America Inc.

Exactly what sort of valuable, self-fulfilling jobs do you imagine are out there for kids without a diploma? For the vast majority of them a dead-end job behind a counter or working as a waitress or in a stockroom is the best they're ever going to do. They'll all wind up as cogs in America Inc., only at the lowest levels at minimum wage and with no benefits or job security.

Posted by: Stefan on March 20, 2007 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

But I did mislead a little. I meant the unschooled kids (“take the them all over, let them see into a vast variety of callings and professions...”) having seen into so many areas of life that the schooled kids would not have experienced, would not have become lawyers and CEOs. They would be more valuable, self-fulfilled members of society, working at jobs they loved and making a difference—not cogs in that vast wheel of bellicose, unhappy, arrogant, suicidal America Inc.

Let's pretend that Bill Clinton had a twin brother named Bob. Bob was equally as brilliant as Bill, but while Bill went to Georgetown, Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and Yale Law, Bob stayed home in Arkansas and never went to school. The Clintons were a poor family, of course, with no connections, so Bob had to support himself as best he could at menial jobs while trying to educate himself on his own. He was smart and charismatic, but without a college diploma he couldn't even get through the door at many jobs. Bill, meanwhile, thanks to his education went on to the career we all know as a state Attorney General, Governor, and President of the United States.

Which of the two would look back on their life and think that they were more valuable, self-fulfilled members of society? Which would think they'd worked at jobs they loved and maked a difference?

Posted by: Stefan on March 20, 2007 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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