Friday, November 28, 2008

Some Ivy is Poison

As the Obama transition team announces their appointments of people to run the government in the next four years, I note with dismay and a shiver of jealousy, that the preponderance of his picks are mostly graduates of the Ivy League colleges. Indeed, an Ivy League education is undoubtedly an automatic leg up and a badge of entitlement signifying to those in this elite cadre that they are superior in intellect and achievement and truly fit to enter the exclusive domain of the group that runs things for the rest of us.

After all, these are the golden boys and girls who probably got double 800’s on their SAT’s and were surely valedictorians or close to that vaunted status when they graduated high school. Unquestionably they are the celebrated best and brightest, vetted by their peers and the parents of their peers, polished and preened to be the chosen ones. Admittedly some of them are heritage kids, automatic enrollers into the high precincts of Ivyhood by blood lines, and the sons and daughters of super wealthy contributors to their bloated endowments.

Throw all those egalitarian pre-election promises into the rubbish heap Barack. These are your guys and gals right out of the elite and super-achiever playbook, your ex-classmates and the ex-classmates of ex-classmates who attend their self-congratulatory reunions and toast themselves on their achievements in the real world. Many of them quite marvelous. Indeed, note how they dub each other “brilliant.” To be a graduate of these schools is the highest honor to be bestowed, a charter membership in America’s most exclusive club. It's hard to argue the contrary.

I guess that most of the rest of us are considered the dumb kids, especially those of us underachievers who never could get into the Ivy League schools, who had to take second, third or fourth best, who labored in two year community colleges or State Universities because of some perceived shortage of brainpower, aptitude, funding or background.

Just look at the lineup of Ivy League graduates that have held high office and you’ll see a preponderance of Ivy Leaguers bunched at the top. Obama, Bush, Clinton, are just the last three. Take a tiny peek at the roster of their wannabe opponents of recent vintage, Senators Kerry and Clinton for starters. At times in some past elections, Kerry versus Bush for example, resembled a fraternity food fight between Yalies. And Obama’s drumbeat against Bush could be likened to a lethal spitball attack at a Yale -Harvard football clash.

And if you want to really nitpick, take a peek into the educational backgrounds of the people in the media, another aspect of our society where the Ivy League network and the old school tie is alive and well. How is that for diversity?

If some disgruntled reverse snob wanted to prove his point, he could take the time to research all government appointees and business movers and shakers in American history, and come up with a vast majority of Ivy Leaguers that would make one’s head swim. No wonder their endowments are bursting with billions.

The Obama team is stacking up to be no exception in its appointment strategy. Is this what is called ready on day one, to pack the team with Ivy Leaguers, a safe credential bet since some of those hayseeds in Congress, many from State schools, are roundly intimidated by this elite cadre of super-achievers? Hell, if they graduated from one of those big shot schools, don’t they have to be smarter than the rest of us? Not that our dismal recent history and screw-ups led by battalions of Ivy Leaguers is any guide to future success.

Strange isn’t it that many of the architects who helped create or at the least passively approved those wacky financial derivatives and other risky instruments, are now the principal economic advisors to the new President. You guessed it. Most are Ivy Leaguers. When they screw up big time, their brothers and sisters in the media hasten to forgive them, and a recent New York Times editorial proclaims a fervent hope that “they learn by their past mistakes.” If they had graduated from Squeedunk U, you can bet your booty that the Times would have called for their permanent exile to purgatory.

As every parent knows an Ivy League diploma puts you immediately at the head of the line, and they will try, short of murder, to get their kids into the Ivy League feeder private schools. Who can blame them?

Put me down as a disgruntled reject from the Ivy League culture, riddled with jealousy and green-eyed envy, resentful that I am not eligible for their charmed circle, or considered the best and the brightest by the Ivy elite. Can you feel the moisture of my crocodile tears?

To tell you the truth, my marks in high school were lousy and I was too busy working odd jobs after school to find the time for extra-curricular brownie points. My chances for admission to an Ivy League school were somewhere short of nil. With the exception of English, my college transcript is an embarrassment. How can I make my point without revealing my credentials?

The fact is, I was an underprivileged, unfunded and odd job working depression kid who lived at home and traveled to college by subway at a time when the only school that deigned to enroll me was NYU, now a hot number in the University pantheon.

Nevertheless, I loved my teachers at NYU, particularly in the English department, the subject of my major, and I am eternally grateful that I was inspired by my freshman English Professor Don Wolfe to be a lifetime novelist. Bless him through all eternity.

I’ll bet that most of the Wall Street geniuses who screwed up the economy were mostly graduates of the much touted Ivy League business schools. Now there was a badge of entitlement. What the hell did they teach in those schools? Was there a course in greed? What hot B school Professor taught how to con the suckers or some polite version of same? It sure as hell worked, at least for them, but not too well for us dumb guys who couldn’t survive the admission process and entry into the network.

In all fairness, while I cannot ignore the outstanding achievements of the vast pool of Ivy Leaguers who have contributed to our country’s greatness in every field of endeavor, I am not prepared to worship at the Ivy League shrine on all matters, especially government service. I’m sure the defenders of the Ivy League culture can topple me easily with their eloquent debating skills, their airs of elitism and entitlement, and put me down as a resentful ingrate. But then, not all Ivy is verdant and pretty. There is such a thing as poison ivy.

I am here to cheerlead for the rest of us, we unwashed and unpolished lessers who never graced their pristine lawns, and for whatever reason were forced to be educated down a rung or two from the great spires of their campus culture. Nevertheless, I’d like to leave this field of contention, surely pursued by the invective and insult of the vast battalions of aristocratic and haughty Ivy Leaguers with the following parting thoughts.

Our two greatest Presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, never went to Ivy League colleges. Indeed, they never went to college at all and were both self-educated. And the two Presidents who made the most important decisions in recent history: Harry Truman, who authorized the use of the atomic bomb that ended World War II and saved Europe from soviet domination with the Marshall Plan, never went to college, and Ronald Reagan, who graduated from tiny Eureka College, an institution that most Ivy Leaguers would dub as far below their lofty standards, was instrumental in helping to crush the Soviet Union. To borrow a show business phrase; “that’s achievement!”

Before the Ivy leaguers screw it up yet again, I would suggest to the President elect that it might be a good idea to expand his vision and put some folks on the payroll who went to school in the boonies and maybe even a few from that most famous college where three out of four of our greatest Presidents aforementioned got their degrees, The College of Hard Knocks.

1 comment:

Kim Smith said...

Oh Warren, such wisdom in your words. I am with you, all the way, man.
As a kid who thought she knew more than her teachers, (and with the disgraceful way Mississippi schools make their marks- I probably did) to the point of getting her GED so she could be two years through Junior College before her graduating class graduated, I salute you. Community college was good enough to get me a job, and a life. My own hard head and determination earned the rest.
Spit on the I/L schools. They will never understand the way the REAL American public lives and thinks.