Relevant to the previous post

An article from one of my favorite authors. Selected quotes from the first and last sections of the article to motivate your interest.

As an example, here I’ll tell my own story about my career negotiating the hierarchy in the highly stratified system of higher education in the United States. I ended up in a cushy job as a professor at Stanford University. How did I get there? I tell the story both ways: one about pluck, the other about luck. One has the advantage of making me more comfortable. The other has the advantage of being more true.


In fact, the only thing that’s less fair than the meritocracy is the system it displaced, in which people’s futures were determined strictly by the lottery of birth. Lords begat lords, and peasants begat peasants. In contrast, the meritocracy is sufficiently open that some children of the lower classes can prove themselves in school and win a place higher up the scale. The probability of doing so is markedly lower than the chances of success enjoyed by the offspring of the credentialed elite, but the possibility of upward mobility is nonetheless real. And this possibility is part of what motivates privileged parents to work so frantically to pull every string and milk every opportunity for their children. Through the jousting grounds of schooling, smart poor kids can, at times, displace dumb rich kids. The result is a system of status attainment that provides advantages for some while at the same time spreading fear for their children’s future across families of all social classes. In the end, the only thing that the meritocracy equalises is anxiety.

Do give it a read.


UCLA Ed-Angst

I was thinking about the clear gap between institutional prestige and undergraduate educational experience that I’m seeing at UCLA. Yes, I know UCLA is a research university and the students tend to come second, but that shouldn’t stop me from thinking about it.

Because I have only experienced UCLA (and a little of Babson/USC,)I could go to other colleges and universities and take some classes there for a semester/quarter and come back to report on what the undergraduate experience is like but that’s impractical. I have asked some of my friends that do go to other universities how their education is shaping up and the results fall into two categories: If they go to a liberal arts or “elite” school, they generally love their experience so far and wouldn’t change it for the world. Otherwise (large public university/large private university), they either hate it, or don’t think about their educational experience that much (and to be fair, not everyone has to).

But I do think there is something ironic/tragic about one of the so-called “best” universities in the world (ranked #19 by US News and World Reports, whatever that means) giving the average student only a lackluster education. I would expect any university that’s good enough for Terence Tao is good enough for me, but I now know that’s bad thinking as Terence is one of the most brilliant mathematicians who have ever lived, and I am incapable of doing any type of academic research.

Personally, I think students (myself included) should stop falling for large universities. I understand they are a financial necessity for many and a great fit for some, but if you don’t want to spend the rest of your formal education sitting in lecture halls functionally taking MOOCs or having your papers read by TA’s, don’t come here. If you don’t want to have to apply to for nearly every undergraduate club, don’t come here. If you don’t want to go through entire classes never knowing the name of a single one of your classmates, don’t come here. If you really want to have to fight for the type of education that you want, do come here. I’ll do it with you.