Saturday, March 28, 2015

Excellent Sheep

William Deresiewicz’s book, "Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite", has generated much discussion over the last few months. Deresiewicz chiefly targets the Ivy League and their equivalents. An elite education should spark creative drive, above all feeding and motivating student curiosity. Instead, Ivy League students are ‘excellent sheep’, cultivating identical resumes from prep school onwards, conveyed  via uniform college A grades into the sterility of finance and consulting.

My own biases tap nicely into parts of his description. Deresiewicz encourages high-schoolers to look beyond the elite institutions and to populate public universities and those liberal arts colleges that have stayed true to their mission. But lesser-raking colleges have similar ills. Almost without exception, universities have become almost pure money making machines. The professors, who used to be recruited on their academic brilliance and reputations, are now valued more on their, admittedly related, ability to bring in money. In science, a rapid drive towards group-think has led to individuals being evaluated less on their ability to perform or directly supervise research, and more for their ability to lubricate efforts federating dozens or even hundreds of scientists in competitions for multi-million dollar contracts. In a recent discussion I had with a Vice President of a midwestern college the only subject that seemed to interest him was the setting up of a lucrative company based on the university's research assets.

Tension between the acquisition of creative knowledge and the acquisition of wealth is not new, but a truly intelligently designed system recognizes their equivalence. Wither the Ivy.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rage Against The Machine

"Zone Three please board." We present our boarding passes at CLT.
"You have fallen out of the computer system. You cannot board." says Rayna, unapologetically.
"Magically fallen out of the system, huh?" I say, in a soft voice.
"If you intimidate me I will have you arrested", and she exits, slamming the door.

 Jessica puts us first in line on standby for the next flight, at which we are treated to:
"Your standby boarding cards are invalid. You are not in the system" as seven other standby passengers board before the door slams again.

Ah, well, at least they will pay the hotel overnight.
"Which hotel would you like, sir?"
"We don't care as long as it has a restaurant where we can eat"
 and, of course, Jessica puts us in a hotel with no restaurant.

US Airways and American: "working hard to become the greatest airline in the world".