The New Republic recently published an opinion piece by former Yale professor William Deresiewicz, in which he provides a critique of modern Ivy League universities and suggests benefits of attending religious colleges. In his piece, Deresiewicz accuses the “system of elite education” of engendering “young people who are smart and talented and driven…but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose.”
Deresiewicz indicates in his article several issues with the current Ivy League model of education. He argues that due to exorbitant tuition costs, students are treated as customers to be pandered to and professors lose any incentive to teach. Additionally, he argues, wealthy parents often see the system as a reason to “manufacture” children who are capable of competing in a kind of “college admissions game,” creating a slew of applicants from materially well-off families, but without any sense of direction or motivation.
Professor Deresiewicz advises those considering an Ivy League education to “look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment” to find “toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation.” The extreme admission standards make successful applicants terrified of failure, which in turn encourages “a violent aversion to risk” throughout their college years, he argues. Deresiewicz recounts that one student “left Yale because she found the school ‘stifling to the parts of yourself that you’d call a soul.’”
Deresiewicz does see hope in other models of higher education. He notes:
Religious colleges—even obscure, regional schools that no one has ever heard of on the coasts— often do a much better job [at teaching students how to think]. What an indictment of the Ivy League and its peers: that colleges four levels down on the academic totem pole, enrolling students whose SAT scores are hundreds of points lower than theirs, deliver a better education, in the highest sense of the word.
He goes on to praise the liberal arts college model:
If there is anywhere that college is still college—anywhere that teaching and the humanities are still accorded pride of place—it is the liberal arts college.
Liberal arts colleges and other second-tier colleges “have retained their allegiance to real educational values,” according to Deresiewicz. Through these alternative options, students can still have “the kind of mind-expanding, soul-enriching experience that a liberal arts education provides,” he argues.
The Cardinal Newman Society recommends Catholic colleges and universities, many of which focus heavily on liberal arts education, for their faithful Catholic identity in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.
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