Elitism At Its Worst

The idea that hierarchies dictate and shape our world is not new. The fact that something or someone can be superior to something or someone else is a concept that has been exhausted since the beginning of time. In most cases, this allows for some “light” competition which at times, can be viewed as harmless and even motivational by the way it propels people to strive for something more. However, in other instances, the implementation of this societal pyramid can be detrimental to society as a whole. Colleges have always been sources of competition, due to the fact that their academics, sports and even alumni are perpetually being compared and contrasted.   By comparing them, we are creating this notion that one college is “better” than the other. Although the idea that some colleges are more “established” than others has some truth to it, it also perpetuates an aura of elitism, ultimately creating a college social ladder.  

The notion of elitism is touched upon throughout Joe Moran’s, Interdisciplinarity, as he attempts to decipher the roots of the university and how its foundation has helped shape the relationships that exist between the different disciplines. Moran incorporates the ideas of F.R. Leavis, an English literary critic who was critical of the academicism of the Oxford English School. Leavis aimed to redesign the Cambridge English course by taking the focus solely off of English to produce a more “well rounded” student. Leavis, an elitist, argued that the specialization of disciplines would inhibit an English student’s opportunity to learn, due to the fact that, “one of the virtues of literary studies is that they lead constantly outside themselves,” (26).   Nonetheless, (as Moran points out), Leavis then contradicts himself by lobbying for the intertwinement of disciplines, while actively trying to isolate English as a unique and special field. Leavis openly stated that, “Oxford and Cambridge cream the country,” and proposed the idea of an English school which, “aimed at attracting only the select members of an already exclusive institution,” (29). Moran concludes that Leavis is inconsistent in his goals, because one cannot promote a discipline to only be practiced by, “a minority which itself is separate from the rest of society,” while advocating that the boundaries between disciplines be knocked down (36). There is always going to be someone at the top and someone or something that is better. In my opinion, this does not apply to the different disciplines. Disciplines cannot be measured in a way, which puts one above the rest based on how or whether each one brings something new and old to the table. All disciplines have some connection to each other and involve similar skill sets, making it wrong to have an elitist approach when determining what or even how something should be taught in a college.

The legacy of the elitist outlook, which F.R. Leavis left when fostering the establishment of Oxford and Cambridge, can be traced up through present day. We can see similar approaches when delving deeper into the college process that millions of seniors in high school endure every year.   Throughout the Forbes article, “What College Marketing Materials Don’t Tell You,” author John Wasik reveals just how elite colleges prey on the insecurities of seniors in order to make them appear more selective to the public. Wasik exposes how elite colleges bombard high school students with emails, brochures and even special invitations, encouraging them to apply and making them feel special or wanted by such a prestigious school. This false hope is then channeled into a $65 application, which is simply rejected for the sole purpose of raising the status of the college. Wasik breaks it down into a science by noting that, the “higher the rejection rate, the higher they climb in national rankings. It also helps them to justify their stratospheric fees,” (1). Some prestigious colleges are so wrapped up in the idea of developing their “brand” that they do not realize that what they are doing is intrinsically and morally wrong.  In the end, what really matters to them is where they stand in the hierarchy of colleges. These colleges, by focusing on their status, essentially devalue their true purpose as a learning institution, which is to further your education and to elevate our society as a whole. Elitism and exclusivity have the power to wreak havoc on society, whether it concerns the disciplines or the places in which the disciplines are taught.

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