Posted on | March 29, 2014 | 90 Comments
One way in which these numbers are misleading, or at least incomplete, is that they disguise an important fact: Students going to Caltech for comp science are going to make a lot more money than a student going to Murray State College for Arts whether they went to college or not. The Caltech comp science guy is, look, coming into the classroom a lot smarter than the Murray State Arts grad. Even if they both dropped out of school on the first day of classes, the guy who was at Caltech would make more money that the Murray State student.
It’s nice that Ace makes this comparison between two state schools. One of the problems in most comparisons of this sort is that if you lump together state schools and elite private schools (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Duke, etc.), you’re comparing apples and oranges. The democratizing trends in education — college isn’t just for rich kids anymore — have been counteracted by an increasing prestige for private school diplomas, which are priced out of the range of all but the rich.
Here’s a simple test of who is “rich”: If you can afford $40,000 a year for your kid’s college tuition, congratulations, you’re rich.
And now it’s time to mention that secretive samizdat that no one is supposed to admit having read, The Bell Curve, which became controversial because of its findings about correlations between intelligence, heredity and race. When it was first published, I read all the denunciations in newspaper columns and magazine articles and actually believed The Bell Curve was crypto-Nazi pseudo-science. Then in 1996, a guy on an Internet discussion group responded to my uninformed criticism of the book by asking me if I’d actually read it and, called out, I felt compelled to remedy my ignorance.
Mirabile dictu, the book was a real eye-opener, and I became resentful of the liberals whose hysterical denunciations had misled me. (Remember, I used to be a Democrat, had enthusiastically voted for Clinton in 1992 and, by 1996, was just coming to understand how media bias had influenced my perceptions.)
The thing is, if you cut The Bell Curve in half, and read only the first part about the influence of intelligence in socio-economic outcomes, you would still have a very important book, and probably quite controversial, but it wouldn’t have the terrifying samizdat quality of A Dangerous Subversive Book You’re Not Supposed to Read. Alas, the scary racial controversy about the book has prevented people from examining the very informative material in the first part of the book.
To what extent is socio-economic status (SES) correlated to intelligence? A far greater extent than I’d ever realized, prior to reading The Bell Curve, and this alone was a revelation worth the price of the book. The correlation certainly is not so great that one can say, “poor = stupid” and “rich = smart,” but omni ceteris parabus, smart people do better in life than do stupid people — which, from a common-sense perspective, should not be a controversial thing to say, but which is a fact that our liberal intelligentsia have striven to obscure for many decades.
Well, to what extent is intelligence a hereditary trait? Again, to a far greater extent than we had hitherto been led to believe. And again, the correlation is not so great that one can assume that the children of MIT professors are destined to be geniuses, no matter what their educational experience, but it’s a correlation strong enough that we may predict, for example, that the offspring of high-school dropouts is unlikely to become an MIT professor.
The democratization of American higher education came in a great rush after World War II, first as a result of the G.I. Bill — which is how my Alabama farmboy father became a university graduate — then as a result of widespread post-war affluence combined with the effects of standardized testing and government aid to education, including Pell Grants and student loans. And the way these changes transformed the structure of American society was truly revolutionary from the standpoint of rewarding intelligence, per se.
In 1939, you might have found one man with an IQ of 130 working as a factory hand with an eighth-grade education, while another man with an IQ of 115 was a Harvard graduate and president of the local bank. The difference in their circumstances was simply an accident of birth — the factory hand’s parents were poor and the bank president’s parents were rich. Fast-forward 50 years, however and, by 1989, the grandson of the high-IQ factory hand was likely to be a successful college graduate, and perhaps far more successful than the grandsons of the bank president. Why? Because the educational system had become more meritocratic — more efficient at identifying bright children and directing them toward higher education, without regard for their family’s financial circumstances — and economic prosperity had made it possible for more kids to complete high school and attend college.
This revolution is now in the rear-view mirror, fading into history. Young people have no idea that the system ever worked any other way than it does now. And the way the system works now is that ambitious suburban middle-class parents are quite desperately pushing their little Special Snowflakes toward the fast-track of “gifted” classes, with the idea that if their precious darling doesn’t get into an elite college, life will not be worth living, either for the child or their parents, who will bear the stigma of having raised a
Child Who Didn’t Get Accepted at Yale.
David Brooks has called these people “Achievatrons” — see Michelle Malkin’s 2008 post, “David Brooks’ Ivy League Ejaculations” for a populist response — and the unseemly obsession with elite credentials is warping American society, politics and culture.
The negative effects of this kind of elitism are something most people perceive in an instinctive, common-sense way, but it becomes blindingly apparent if you will carefully read the first part of The Bell Curve. Despite all the fashionable chatter about “diversity” in higher education, the student bodies of elite schools are far more homogenous than is true at state universities. Because of standardized testing, there is now a nationwide competition among young brainiacs to be accepted into elite universities and, because tuition at these schools has increased far beyond the rate of inflation, the overwhelming majority of elite university students come from households with incomes in the top 10%.
A couple years ago, for example, a Harvard student analyzed financial aid data and reached “the stunning conclusion that approximately 45.6 percent of Harvard undergraduates come from families with incomes above $200,000, placing them in the top 3.8 percent of American households.” Not only are Harvard students economically isolated from the life experiences of the vast majority of Americans, but they are are socially isolated from everyone except their fellow “Achievatrons.” They have no friends who were not likewise on the academic fast track since elementary school and, whatever sympathy they may have for the untutored masses, they have never been in a situation where they had to respect such people as their social or political equals.
Spare me your insulting liberal condescension, Harvard boy.
If you’re a middle-class parent whose kid makes straight A’s and has a near-perfect SAT score, your child might be able to get enough financial aid to scrape through at Harvard, but why (other than the ambitious craving for an elite credential) would you want to do that to your kid? Why subject your child to the needless humiliation of being the shabby, impoverished student at a Snob Factory full of rich kids? If your child is smart enough to get into an elite school, he can almost certainly get a full scholarship to a state university. Middle-class parents should say to hell with Harvard and, while they’re at it, to hell with Duke, too.
The pathetic spectacle of Miriam Weeks, performing in sex videos as “Belle Knox” to pay tuition at Duke, is a perfect example of where the foolish pursuit of elite credentials leads. That she reportedly turned down a scholarship to a Top 20 school (Vanderbilt, ranked No. 17 nationally) to attend a Top 10 school (Duke is ranked No. 7) gives you a sense of how nonsensical her choices were.
Let the rich have the elite schools to themselves. Refuse to let yourself be brainwashed or peer-pressured into accepting the elite’s self-flattering worldview, wherein their possession of the ornaments of status makes them certifiably Better Than You.
Smart people do well in life even if they never go to college, as Ace helpfully points out, and the prestige of an elite credential is not really worth much, if you have to suck cocks to get it.