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耶鲁大学:精英教育的劣势 The disadvantages of elite education (中英文对照)

摘要:本文简要探讨了精英教育对学生造成的不利影响,揭露了精英教育疏远人性、鼓吹虚假的自我价值、提供平庸和安全的诱惑、消磨欣赏孤独的能力等劣势,指出大学的宗旨是塑造灵魂而不是培养就业能力。

我到了三十五岁时才突然认识到我的教育可能存在一些漏洞。我刚刚买了房子,需要安装水管,请来的管子工就站在我的厨房。他个子矮小、结实健壮,留着山羊胡,戴一顶红色棒球帽,说话操着浓浓的波士顿口音,我突然意识到根本就不知道该如何给人家讲话。在我看来,他的经历是如此陌生,他的价值观是如此难以预测,他的语言怪异难懂,在他开始干活前,连和他闲聊几句都不可能。我十四年的大学教育和在几所常春藤大学工作的经历使得我傻乎乎站在那里,笨拙不堪,尴尬不已。有个朋友称这种现象为“常春藤错位”。我可以用外语和其他国家的人侃侃而谈,却无法和站在我家里的人说两句话。

我花费这么长时间才发现教育的错误程度并不让人吃惊,因为精英教育绝不可能让你认识到它自身的缺陷。正如在耶鲁和哥伦比亚大学二十多年的经验显示的,名牌学校不断地鼓励学生为能到这些地方上学而自豪,不断夸耀名牌大学经历能给他们带来的好处。精英教育的优势当然是不可否认的。你至少在某些方式上学会思考,还可以建立一些日后开创事业所需要的人际关系,获得让世人羡慕的富裕生活或其他报答。但是在这个背景下,如果认为它创造了一些机会,却丧失了其他机会,培养了有些能力,却其削弱了其他能力,不仅是大逆不道的而且是不可思议的。

我不是在谈论课程设置或者文化战争、美国思想的开放或者关闭、政治正确或者准则塑造或任何你拥有的东西,我是在讨论出现这些偏颇的整个体制。不仅是常春藤学校或者其他大学,而且包括让你获得优越地位的整个机制:私立或富裕的公立“填鸭式”学校、越来越泛滥的辅导老师、备考课程和辅导班等准机构、导致录取与否的招生疯狂。像通常情况一样,信息就是媒介。精英大学课堂之前、之后、和周围都在集中灌输着价值观。随着全球化加剧经济不安全感,学生、家长、和整个社会都越来越指望获得教育优势的整个机制。既然有这么多资源投入到精英教育的事业中,有这么多人来争夺向上阶梯的有限空间,我们有必要问一下最后你到底能得到什么,我们整体能得到了什么,因为正如大学不厌其烦地提醒他们的,当今的精英学生是未来的领袖。我们这些最好的大学已经忘记了存在的理由是塑造灵魂而不是创造职业。

正如我在厨房认识到的,精英教育的第一个劣势是它让你无法和与你不同的人进行交流。精英大学常常夸耀自己的多元化,但是这种多元化几乎总是限于种族和民族的范畴。说到阶级,这些学校基本上越来越多地趋同化。如果你到我们伟大国家的任何一所名牌大学看看,就会惊讶地发现白人商贾名流和专业人士的子女和黑人、亚裔、拉丁裔商贾名流和专业人士的子女一起学习和玩耍的温馨场景。与此同时,因为这些学校培养自由态度,所以让这些学生陷入矛盾的困境,他们愿意为工农阶层代言,却无法与来自这些阶层的人进行简单交流。让我们回顾一下上次民主党的两个总统提名候选人戈尔和克里的情景吧。他们一个来自哈佛,一个来自耶鲁,两人都是真诚、体面和富有智慧的人,但他们都根本无法和选民沟通交流。

但是这不仅仅是阶级问题。我的教育让我相信没有进入常春藤大学或者其他名牌大学的人是不值得交谈的,不管他出身于什么阶级。我得到的教育清清楚楚显示这些人低我一等。正如名牌大学喜欢宣扬的,我们是“最好的、最聪明的人”,其他任何地方的人都与我们不同:没我们好,没我们聪明。如果有人告诉我他们上的学校不那么有名气,我学会了表示理解地点点头,表现出些微同情地说“啊,”(如果我上了哈佛,有人问我在哪上学时,我学会了说“在波士顿”)。我根本不知道没有上名牌大学的人中也有聪明人,实际上他们没能到那里常常正是因为阶级原因。我根本不知道还有很多聪明人根本就没有上过大学。

我也了解到有些聪明人并不“聪明”。智慧形式多样性的存在已经是个常识,但是不管精英大学多么喜欢夸耀新生班级里面有几个演员或者小提琴手,他们挑选和培养的智慧形式只是分析能力。虽然这对于所有大学都可以说是真实的,但是精英大学恰恰因为学生(包括老师和管理者)在这方面的智慧程度如此之高,所以很容易忽略其他智慧形式的价值。人们夸耀自己最擅长,最能给自己带来优势的东西是很自然的,但是社会智慧和感情智慧以及创造能力等在教育精英中的分配并不占优势(仅提出这三种智慧形式)。“最优秀者”只是在狭隘意义上的最聪明者而已,人们要摆脱教育精英才能认识到这个问题。

那么在任何意义上都不聪明的人如何呢?我有个朋友从典型的普通公立中学毕业后考上了常春藤大学。她说,进入这种学校的价值之一是它教给你如何与不聪明的人相处。有人在精英大学的意义上聪明,有人在其他方面聪明,有人根本就不聪明。如果与人交谈是了解他们的唯一真正的方法,不知道如何与他们交谈就是让人尴尬的事。名牌大学应该提供了人道主义教育,但是人性的第一个原则是古罗马戏剧家泰伦斯(Terence)的原则“只要与人有关的事我都不陌生”。精英教育的第一个劣势就是它让你疏远了众多人性特征。

第二个劣势隐含在我一直在讲的观点里,那就是精英教育灌输了一种虚假的自我价值。考上名牌大学,在名牌大学上学,毕业于名牌大学都取决于分数排名(如大学入学考试(SAT)平均分(GPA)、研究生入学考试(GRE))你学会了用那些分数来评价自己。分数不仅放大了你的命运,而且放大了你的身份,不仅放大了你的身份,而且放大了你的价值。人们一直说那些考试真正检验的是你的考试能力,但是即使它们确实测量出真实的内容,也不过是真实情况中的一小部分而已。问题开始于你鼓励学生忘掉这个真理时刻,功课方面的优秀成为绝对意义上的优秀时,“在某方面出色”变成了“出色”时。

对自己的智慧或者知识感到自豪没有任何不对的地方,问题出现在名牌大学录取通知书进入家门的时刻起,是名牌大学所纵容的沾沾自喜和自我吹捧。这些明确无误的信息贯穿于从大学入学教育到毕业的整个过程,体现在每个人的音调、头脑的倾斜、传统名校宣传、学生报纸的每篇文章、院长的每篇演说中。这个信息就是你来了,欢迎加入这个俱乐部。必然结果也同样明白无误:

你理应得到因为你到了这里而能得到的一切东西。当人们说名牌大学学生有强烈的权利意识,他们的意思是这些学生认为他们因为分数比别人高所以理应得到比别人更多的东西。

在耶鲁,毫无疑问其他地方也一样,这个信息被让人尴尬的字面术语来强化。该大学的物质形式,也就是四方院和住宿学院连同临街的建在围墙里的紧锁的哥特式石头、熟铁大门。每个人携带的身份证决定了他可以从哪个门进入。换句话说,这门就是控制性的比喻,因为大学的社会形式就是用同样方式构成的,每个名牌大学都是如此。名牌大学都是被锁着的大门围起来的堡垒,只对经过挑选符合要求的人开放。学生吸收这个教训的能力体现在他们在这些门里竖立起更多门槛的渴望,成立更加排他性的特殊团体,在耶鲁有著名的秘密社团,或者应该被称为公开的秘密社团,因为真正秘密的话将破坏他们的目的。除非人们知道自己被排除在外了,否则排他性又有什么意义呢?

精英教育的重大劣势之一是它教给你认为智慧和学术功课的测量标准是道德上或者形而上学意义上的价值判断标准,但实际上不是。名牌大学的毕业生并不比愚蠢的人、不聪明的人、甚至懒惰的人更有价值。他们的痛苦并不比他人更痛苦,他们的灵魂并不更重要。如果我是信徒,我会说上帝并不爱他们更多。政治上的隐含意义是清晰的。正如约翰·罗斯金(John Ruskin)曾经对老精英说,当你用脑子的力量而不是用拳头的力量抓住你能得到的东西,并不说明你的邪恶就更少些。罗斯金说“必须有人工作,也必须有工头,但是在成为工头和从工作中牟利之间存在巨大的差别。”

政治上的隐含意义不仅仅止于此。精英教育不仅预示着你进入上层社会,一旦进入那里后,还训练你适应那里的生活。我以前不知道这些,后来我对比了我和我的同学的经历以及进入克利夫兰州立大学的朋友的经历开始明白了。在耶鲁大学有交作业的最后期限和考勤规定,但是没有人认真对待,如果请求可以申请推迟,如果旷课减少学分的威胁从来没有认真执行过。换句话说,在耶鲁这样的大学,学生们有数不清的第二次机会。但是在克里夫兰州立大学就没有。我的朋友有一门本来一直成绩很好的课却得了很低的分数,因为她当班做侍应生的缘故迟交论文了一个小时。

这或许是个极端的例子,但在精英大学是不可思议的。同样不可思议的是,她根本没有申诉的机会。克里夫兰州立大学的学生们不像耶鲁的学生有一群顾问、辅导老师和系主任帮他们写作业晚交的情况说明,在需要的时候提供额外帮助,在跌倒的时候把他们扶起来。他们得到的是来自冷漠官僚体制的批发性教育,不是由满脸笑容的工作人员把精心包装的包裹亲手交给他们。他们很少有机会接触我的学生们经常接触的上层联系,比如来访的权力掮客演讲,和外国代表一起吃饭等。他们也很少有机会得到各种特别基金资助,在耶鲁这样的地方,有各种各样的基金资助,比如旅行补贴、研究奖学金、演出奖励等。每年我所在的耶鲁英语系有几十种现金奖励,内容从新生作文到毕业设计五花八门。今年,这些奖励已经达到九万美元,还是仅仅在一个系里。

在克里夫兰州立大学这样的大学的学生也不可能仅仅做了作业就可以得优。最近有很多文章谈到分数膨胀的问题,这是丑闻,但是最丑陋的地方在于它是多么地不平衡。四十年前,公立和私立大学的平均分(GPA)是2.6,仍然接近传统的(B-/C+)曲线。从那时起,它在任何地方都开始上升,但是上涨的幅度不同。公立大学的平均分是3.0或者B,在私立大学是3.3,很少B+。在多数常春藤大学,这个数字已经接近3.4。但是总有学生不做作业或者上专业课之外的课程(不管是为了好玩还是为了学分)或者根本就达不到标准的情况(比如运动员或者校友子女)。但是在耶鲁这样的学校,只要来上课,努力学习就可以期待得到(A-)在大部分时候,他们确实得到了这个成绩。

简而言之,学生在大学被对待的方式训练了他们一旦走出校门后获得的社会岗位的对待方式。在克里夫兰州立大学这样的学校,学生们接受的培训是担任阶级体系中的中间位置,处于官僚机构中的底层。他们已经被训练过很少有二次机会的生活,没有推迟宽限,很少有资助,很少有机会,要在服从、接受监督和控制下生活,赶最后期限,不是制定指导原则的生活。在耶鲁这样的地方,当然正好相反。精英喜欢把自己归入管理阶层,但是这只是在一定程度上是真实的。进入大门是非常困难的,但是一旦进去了,你做了几乎任何事情都不可能被赶出来。不管是最绝望的课程不及格,还是最可恶的抄袭劣行,甚至对其他同学的身体伤害的威胁等都不会被开除,这三种情况我都听说过。上帝啊,感觉就是它不公平,换句话说,老同学关系网的自我保护,虽然现在也包括了女生。精英学校培养出类拔萃的人才,但是也培养我认识的一个从前的耶鲁毕业生所说的“有资格的平庸”。A是出类拔萃的标记,而A-是“有资格的平庸”的标记。这是另外一个比喻的例子,不仅是分数或者承诺。它意味着,别担心,我们会照顾你的。你可能不是那么好,但已经足够好了。

这里,大学也反映了成人世界的运行方式(除了它是另外的方向)。对于精英,总有另一个宽限、不追究、赦免、恢复期等,总有众多的关系网、特别的薪金、乡村俱乐部、会议、年终奖、分红等。如果戈尔和克里代表精英教育的一个典型产品的话,乔治·布什就代表另一个典型。我们的现任总统是有资格的平庸的化身,他进入耶鲁决非碰巧的事情。有资格的平庸实际上是其政府的运行原则,但是正如安然公司和世界通讯公司和其他网络公司丑闻所显示的,也是公司化美国的运行原则。那些表现不佳的公司高管的丰厚薪水就是成人世界的A-分数。任何记得感到委屈的伪善者安然公司头目肯尼斯·莱恩(Kenneth Lay)都明白其中涉及的心态。此人回应他应该为自己的行为承担责任的指控时说,一旦你进入了一个俱乐部,你就有了上帝给予的权利永远留在这个俱乐部内。但是你没有必要记住肯尼斯·莱恩,因为同样的故事去年发生在另一个耶鲁人斯科特·利比(Scooter Libby)身上。

如果精英教育的劣势之一是它提供平庸的诱惑,另一个劣势是它提供安全的诱惑。当家长解释为什么他们如此卖力地要给予孩子最好的教育时,他们毫无例外地说因为它提供了众多的机会。但是它关闭了什么机会呢?精英教育给予你发财的机会,这毕竟是你在谈论的东西,但是它也剥夺了不发财的机会。不发财的机会实际上是每个年轻美国人一直被给予的最好机会之一。我们生活在这样一个社会,它这么富裕完全可以为或许在其他国家存在(或者从前曾经存在的)的处于贫困边缘的人或者至少处于丧失尊严的边缘的人提供体面的生活。你作为中学老师、社区组织者、民权律师、艺术家可以在美国生活地很舒服,不管按任何有道理的舒服的定义来判断。你得居住在普通公寓里而不是曼哈顿的豪宅或者洛杉矶官邸里。你得开本田车,而不是宝马或者悍马(Hummer),你得在弗罗里达度假而不是在巴巴多斯或者巴黎。但是这些损失如果和你有机会做自己信任的工作,做你适合的工作,你喜爱的工作,你的日常生活相比算得了什么呢?

但这正是精英教育剥夺了的机会。我怎么能去做一名中学教师呢,那不是浪费了我昂贵的教育吗?难道不是挥霍掉了父母花费这么大代价为我提供的好教育了么?我的朋友们该怎么看待我呢?二十年后同学再相聚,我怎么有脸见那些成为大律师或者纽约名流的同学呢?所有这些问题背后的问题是:这不是委屈了我么?所以可能性的整个世界都关闭了,你错过了你可能真正喜欢的职业。

这并不是说名牌大学的学生毕业后决不会追求风险大或者利润少的职业,不过即使他们选了这些职业,也比他人更容易很快放弃。(我们甚至不讨论某些特权阶级的孩子根本不上大学的可能性,或者推迟好几年入学,因为不管这种选择有时候显得多么合适,刻板的教育心态已经把他们排斥在可能性世界之外,有很多孩子像梦游一般来到大学,根本就不知道上大学的理由)。这似乎是不合情理的,因为精英大学的学生倾向于毕业时不用背很多债,也更容易靠家庭资助度过一段时间。我以前不知道有这种现象,后来从我们系的几个研究生那里听说这事,一个来自耶鲁,一个来自哈佛的两学生在讨论写诗歌,他们的大学朋友说一两年之内肯定洗手不干了,而他们认识的来自普通大学的学生仍然还在坚持。为什么是这样?因为名牌大学学生期待成功,期待立刻就成功。从定义上看,他们从来没有经历过别的东西,他们的自我意识就是建立在成功的能力基础上的。不成功的想法让他们感到恐惧、让他们无所适从、让他们一蹶不振。他们的整个人生一直被失败的恐惧所驱动,往往最开始起因于父母对失败的恐惧。我第一次考试不理想,走出教室后觉得我已经不知道自己是谁了。第二次考试失败就好受多了,我已经明白失败并非世界末日。

但是如果你害怕失败,你就害怕冒险,这就解释了精英教育的最终的最具破坏性的劣势:它在本质上是反智主义的。这似乎和本能相反。难道精英大学里的孩子至少在狭窄的功课意义上不是最聪明的吗?他们不是学习最刻苦的吗?不是比前几代的学生都更刻苦吗?是的,他们确实如此。但是成为知识分子和成为聪明人不是一回事。成为知识分子不仅仅意味着做功课。

如果这么多孩子在上大学的时候还认识不到这一点,这没有什么希奇。他们是体制的产物,很少思考下一次作业以外的问题。这种教育体制忘了教会他们在沿着道路进入名牌大学找到待遇丰厚的工作过程中,最重要的成功是无法通过一封推荐信或者分数或者校名来衡量的。它忘了教育的真正目的是塑造灵魂,不是培养就业能力。

成为知识分子意味着首先对思想充满激情,不是为一个个学期,为了讨老师的欢心,或者取得好成绩。一个在康涅狄格大学教书的朋友曾经向我抱怨说他的学生不会自己思考。我说,耶鲁学生会自己思考,但只是因为他们知道老师希望他们这样做。我在耶鲁和哥伦比亚大学教过很多非常聪明的学生,他们头脑清晰、善于思考、富于创造性,与他们交谈和学习确实是个享受。但是他们中的大部分人似乎只满足于教育为他们划的线之内的颜色。只有很少一部分把教育看作更大的智慧探索旅程的一部分,用朝圣者的心情阅读思想著作。这些少数人很容易感觉到和他人格格不入,因为从大学本身得到的支持太少了。正如其中一个对我说的,像耶鲁这样的地方根本不适合探索者。

耶鲁这样的地方根本不是帮助学生提出大问题的地方。我认为在美国的大学里根本就没有智慧主义的黄金时代,但是在十九世纪学生至少曾有机会在教堂里、或者校园里蓬勃发展的文学社团、辩论俱乐部里听到有人提出这种问题。在二十世纪的大部分时间里,随着美国大学里人文主义理想的增长,学生或许在具有强烈教学使命感的教授课堂里遭遇过大问题。那样的教授在这个国家仍然还存在,但是学术专业化越来越可怕的关键时刻已经让他们成为名牌大学里的快要灭绝的物种。著名研究型大学的教授评价完全靠学术成果的质量来衡量,花费在教学上的时间完全是浪费。如果学生想体会谈话的经验,最好到文科学院。

当精英大学夸耀他们教学生如何思考时,他们的意思是讲授在法律、医药、科学、商业等方面取得成功所需要的分析和修辞技能。但是文科教育应该意味着更多的东西,他们刚入学时听过几场向他们提出大问题的报告,毕业的时候听几场提出大问题的报告。在两者之间,他们花费四年时间上课,老师训练他们提出小问题,由专业化的教授对专业化的学生讲授的专业化的课程。虽然广泛的概念在文科教育思想本身是隐含性的,但录取过程越来越多地挑选那些已经使用专业化术语思考未来的学生,如未来的记者、即将的宇航员、语言天才等。甚至在精英大学的我们也陷入大肆夸耀的职业教育泥坑。

实际上,这些似乎恰恰是学校希望的东西。精英大学说他们要培养领袖,而不是思想家,要培养权力的拥有者而不是权力的批评家,这是有理由的。有独立思想的人与任何联盟无缘,精英大学的大部分预算来自校友捐助,所以花费大量精力培养学生对学校的忠诚。正如三代耶鲁人的一个朋友说的,耶鲁大学的目的就是生产耶鲁校友。当然,为了让体制能够工作,那些校友需要钱。耶鲁当局长期以来对学生从人文学科和基础科学专业转向比如计算机和经济学之类实用性学科的倾向一直冷漠地怂恿。大学就业办公室很少鼓励对法律、医药、商业不感兴趣的学生,也不做任何事情去减弱毕业生大量涌进华尔街的热情。实际上,他们在向学生指明这条道路。文科大学正在变成公司大学,它的重心已经转向技术领域,学术专长能够成功地变成利润丰厚的商业机会。

难怪对思想充满热情的学生发现自己感到孤立和困惑。去年我曾经和其中一个学生交谈,他对于德国浪漫主义观点“灵魂塑造”(bildung)感兴趣。但是,他已经是大四学生了,周围的人都在忙着推销自己的时候,你很难塑造灵魂啊。

但思想生活有一个维度位于思想热情之上,虽然我们的文化已经这么彻底地消毒了,如果它让那些最警惕的学生也抓不住就没有什么好奇怪的了。因为知识分子的概念出现在十八世纪,曾经有个时期包含着对社会变革的承诺。成为知识分子意味着提出办法实现通向美好社会的前景,然后向当权者讲真话去实现这个理想。它意味着进入精神的放逐,意味着坚决放弃你对上帝、对国家、对耶鲁的忠诚,享受孤独的自由。它不仅需要智慧,还需要想象力和勇气。乔伊斯小说中的青年学生斯蒂芬·迪达勒斯(Stephen Dedalus)说“我不怕犯错误、大错误、遗憾终身的错误、甚至永恒的错误。”

成为知识分子开始于你的思维方式,摆脱你的假设和强制这些假设的体制。但是进入名牌大学的学生恰恰是那些在体制内学得最好的人,所以让他们超越体制看问题几乎是不可能的,甚至根本看不到体制的存在。在他们进入大学之前很久就已经把自己变成了世界一流的俯首帖耳、讨好老师的小爬虫,在每门课上都得优秀成绩,不管他们觉得这个老师多么乏味,不管他觉得这门课多么没有意义。他们也尽力积累八到十个课外活动,不管多么想用这些时间做别的事情。矛盾的是,这种情形在二流的学校反而更好些,尤其是在文科学院比在最好的大学还好些。有些学生最后来到二流学校,因为他们和哈佛和耶鲁的学生一样,只不过才华稍逊或者没有那么强的动机。但是有些人到了那里是因为他们有更独立的精神,他们没有得全优是因为懒得在每堂课上尽一切努力,他们把注意力集中在最有意义的内容上,进行一个特别感兴趣的课外活动,或者去做和学校没有任何关系甚至与有利于大学申请无关的项目,或者他们只是坐在房间里看很多书或者写文章。这些是一类孩子,一旦进入大学后,他们更感兴趣的往往是人性精神而不是学校精神,思考在大学毕业时要带着的问题,而不是带着求职简历。

我在耶鲁的时候印象深刻的是每个人看起来都差不多。你很难看到嬉皮士、朋克或者艺术学生的类型,在八十年代著名的被称为同性恋常春藤的学校,很少是女同性恋者,没有男同性恋者。另类学生根本就没有什么出格的举动,追逐时尚的学生热衷的是朴素的优雅。三十二种风味里全是香子兰。大部分精英大学已经都成为思想狭隘、让人窒息的常态王国。每个人都感受到要保持一种伴随成功形象和效果的压力。(成功的服装,成功的药物治疗)我从长期担任顾问的经验中得知,不是每个耶鲁学生都合适这里的学习或者学会适应它的,可他们都是一样的表现,这正是让我感到担忧的地方。常态的暴政在他们的生活中肯定非常强烈,其中一个后果是那些功课跟不上的学生(他们倾向于来自贫穷的家庭背景)常常表现出相反方向的两个极端,要么疏远要么自暴自弃。但是还有一个后果与能够跟上功课的大部分学生有关。

几年前我讲授了一门关于友谊的文学课。有一天我们在讨论弗吉尼亚·沃尔夫(Virginia Wolf)跟踪一群从儿童到中年的友谊的小说《海浪》。在高中,其中一个男孩爱上了另一个,他想,“我能向谁展示我自己激情的紧迫性呢?一个也没有。这里灰色的拱门、呜咽的鸽子、欢快的游戏、传统习俗和竞赛,所有这些被巧妙地组织起来避免让人感到孤独”。这是对名牌大学校园生活的绝佳描述,包括从来不允许感到孤独的部分。我很想知道我的学生对此是怎么想的?在一个你从来不感到孤独的大学上学意味着什么?其中一个学生说,啊,如果一个人坐在房间里,我确实感到不自在。即使在写文章的时候,我也是在朋友的房间里完成的。碰巧的是,同一天,另一个学生做了关于爱默生论友谊的发言。他汇报说,爱默生说友谊的目的之一就是让你有能力承受孤独。正如我在问学生他们觉得这句话意味着什么,其中一个打断我的话说,请等一下,你首先为什么需要孤独?你独自能做什么和朋友一起不能做的事情吗?

这就是他们:一个是丧失了品尝孤独滋味的年轻人,另一个是没有看到孤独意义的年轻人。最近常常有人讨论隐私的丧失,但是同样可怕的是它的必然结果—孤独的丧失。从前指的是你不能总是和朋友在一起,即使你想这么做。现在是学生能随时随地通过电子手段联系,要找到对方没有一点儿困难。但他们的强迫性社交似乎不能让他们产生深刻的友谊。“我能向谁展示我激情的紧迫性?”我的学生可以在朋友的房间里写论文,却无法产生心与心的交流。她可能没有时间,实际上其他学生告诉我,他们发现同伴们实在太忙了根本没有办法培养亲密关系。

当繁忙和社交占据了孤独的所有空间后会发生什么呢?我那天向学生指出,具备反思和回顾的能力是知识分子生活的前提,而反思的前提就是孤独。他们思考了一下这个问题,接着有学生似乎有点自我认识的意识,他说“你认为我们都是真正出类拔萃的一种人?”啊,我不知道。但是我确实明白思想者的生活是在单独进行的:孤独的、怀疑的、坚韧的思想。培养这种品格的最好地方不是在精英教育体制内,因为其真正目的是重新创造一个集体系统。

产生了约翰·克里和乔治·布什的世界正在为我们培养下一代领导人。在高中时进修大学课程的学生或者大学里修双学位的同时还编辑三种校园出版物的学生,那些每个大学或法学院都想要,课堂上谁都不想要的学生,那些忙得连呼吸的时间都没有,更不要说思考了的学生将很快管理一家公司、一个机构甚至一个政府。她可能有很多成就,但是经验很少,可能有很多成功,但是远景很少。精英教育的劣势是培养出来的精英过去现在一个样。

作者简介:威廉·德莱斯维茨(William Deresiewicz)1998年到2008年在耶鲁大学教英语。

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It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.

It’s not surprising that it took me so long to discover the extent of my miseducation, because the last thing an elite education will teach you is its own inadequacy. As two dozen years at Yale and Columbia have shown me, elite colleges relentlessly encourage their students to flatter themselves for being there, and for what being there can do for them. The advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable. You learn to think, at least in certain ways, and you make the contacts needed to launch yourself into a life rich in all of society’s most cherished rewards. To consider that while some opportunities are being created, others are being cancelled and that while some abilities are being developed, others are being crippled is, within this context, not only outrageous, but inconceivable.

I’m not talking about curricula or the culture wars, the closing or opening of the American mind, political correctness, canon formation, or what have you. I’m talking about the whole system in which these skirmishes play out. Not just the Ivy League and its peer institutions, but also the mechanisms that get you there in the first place: the private and affluent public “feeder” schools, the ever-growing parastructure of tutors and test-prep courses and enrichment programs, the whole admissions frenzy and everything that leads up to and away from it. The message, as always, is the medium. Before, after, and around the elite college classroom, a constellation of values is ceaselessly inculcated. As globalization sharpens economic insecurity, we are increasingly committing ourselves—as students, as parents, as a society—to a vast apparatus of educational advantage. With so many resources devoted to the business of elite academics and so many people scrambling for the limited space at the top of the ladder, it is worth asking what exactly it is you get in the end—what it is we all get, because the elite students of today, as their institutions never tire of reminding them, are the leaders of tomorrow.

The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it. Witness the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry: one each from Harvard and Yale, both earnest, decent, intelligent men, both utterly incapable of communicating with the larger electorate.

But it isn’t just a matter of class. My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all.

I also never learned that there are smart people who aren’t “smart.” The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. The “best” are the brightest only in one narrow sense. One needs to wander away from the educational elite to begin to discover this.

What about people who aren’t bright in any sense? I have a friend who went to an Ivy League college after graduating from a typically mediocre public high school. One of the values of going to such a school, she once said, is that it teaches you to relate to stupid people. Some people are smart in the elite-college way, some are smart in other ways, and some aren’t smart at all. It should be embarrassing not to know how to talk to any of them, if only because talking to people is the only real way of knowing them. Elite institutions are supposed to provide a humanistic education, but the first principle of humanism is Terence’s: “nothing human is alien to me.” The first disadvantage of an elite education is how very much of the human it alienates you from.

The second disadvantage, implicit in what I’ve been saying, is that an elite education inculcates a false sense of self-worth. Getting to an elite college, being at an elite college, and going on from an elite college—all involve numerical rankings: SAT, GPA, GRE. You learn to think of yourself in terms of those numbers. They come to signify not only your fate, but your identity; not only your identity, but your value. It’s been said that what those tests really measure is your ability to take tests, but even if they measure something real, it is only a small slice of the real. The problem begins when students are encouraged to forget this truth, when academic excellence becomes excellence in some absolute sense, when “better at X” becomes simply “better.”

There is nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s intellect or knowledge. There is something wrong with the smugness and self-congratulation that elite schools connive at from the moment the fat envelopes come in the mail. From orientation to graduation, the message is implicit in every tone of voice and tilt of the head, every old-school tradition, every article in the student paper, every speech from the dean. The message is: You have arrived. Welcome to the club. And the corollary is equally clear: You deserve everything your presence here is going to enable you to get. When people say that students at elite schools have a strong sense of entitlement, they mean that those students think they deserve more than other people because their SAT scores are higher.

At Yale, and no doubt at other places, the message is reinforced in embarrassingly literal terms. The physical form of the university—its quads and residential colleges, with their Gothic stone façades and wrought-iron portals—is constituted by the locked gate set into the encircling wall. Everyone carries around an ID card that determines which gates they can enter. The gate, in other words, is a kind of governing metaphor—because the social form of the university, as is true of every elite school, is constituted the same way. Elite colleges are walled domains guarded by locked gates, with admission granted only to the elect. The aptitude with which students absorb this lesson is demonstrated by the avidity with which they erect still more gates within those gates, special realms of ever-greater exclusivity—at Yale, the famous secret societies, or as they should probably be called, the open-secret societies, since true secrecy would defeat their purpose. There’s no point in excluding people unless they know they’ve been excluded.

One of the great errors of an elite education, then, is that it teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense. But they’re not. Graduates of elite schools are not more valuable than stupid people, or talentless people, or even lazy people. Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more. If I were religious, I would say, God does not love them more. The political implications should be clear. As John Ruskin told an older elite, grabbing what you can get isn’t any less wicked when you grab it with the power of your brains than with the power of your fists. “Work must always be,” Ruskin says, “and captains of work must always be….[But] there is a wide difference between being captains…of work, and taking the profits of it.”

The political implications don’t stop there. An elite education not only ushers you into the upper classes; it trains you for the life you will lead once you get there. I didn’t understand this until I began comparing my experience, and even more, my students’ experience, with the experience of a friend of mine who went to Cleveland State. There are due dates and attendance requirements at places like Yale, but no one takes them very seriously. Extensions are available for the asking; threats to deduct credit for missed classes are rarely, if ever, carried out. In other words, students at places like Yale get an endless string of second chances. Not so at places like Cleveland State. My friend once got a D in a class in which she’d been running an A because she was coming off a waitressing shift and had to hand in her term paper an hour late.

That may be an extreme example, but it is unthinkable at an elite school. Just as unthinkably, she had no one to appeal to. Students at places like Cleveland State, unlike those at places like Yale, don’t have a platoon of advisers and tutors and deans to write out excuses for late work, give them extra help when they need it, pick them up when they fall down. They get their education wholesale, from an indifferent bureaucracy; it’s not handed to them in individually wrapped packages by smiling clerks. There are few, if any, opportunities for the kind of contacts I saw my students get routinely—classes with visiting power brokers, dinners with foreign dignitaries. There are also few, if any, of the kind of special funds that, at places like Yale, are available in profusion: travel stipends, research fellowships, performance grants. Each year, my department at Yale awards dozens of cash prizes for everything from freshman essays to senior projects. This year, those awards came to more than $90,000—in just one department.

Students at places like Cleveland State also don’t get A-’s just for doing the work. There’s been a lot of handwringing lately over grade inflation, and it is a scandal, but the most scandalous thing about it is how uneven it’s been. Forty years ago, the average GPA at both public and private universities was about 2.6, still close to the traditional B-/C+ curve. Since then, it’s gone up everywhere, but not by anything like the same amount. The average gpa at public universities is now about 3.0, a B; at private universities it’s about 3.3, just short of a B+. And at most Ivy League schools, it’s closer to 3.4. But there are always students who don’t do the work, or who are taking a class far outside their field (for fun or to fulfill a requirement), or who aren’t up to standard to begin with (athletes, legacies). At a school like Yale, students who come to class and work hard expect nothing less than an A-. And most of the time, they get it.

In short, the way students are treated in college trains them for the social position they will occupy once they get out. At schools like Cleveland State, they’re being trained for positions somewhere in the middle of the class system, in the depths of one bureaucracy or another. They’re being conditioned for lives with few second chances, no extensions, little support, narrow opportunity—lives of subordination, supervision, and control, lives of deadlines, not guidelines. At places like Yale, of course, it’s the reverse. The elite like to think of themselves as belonging to a meritocracy, but that’s true only up to a point. Getting through the gate is very difficult, but once you’re in, there’s almost nothing you can do to get kicked out. Not the most abject academic failure, not the most heinous act of plagiarism, not even threatening a fellow student with bodily harm—I’ve heard of all three—will get you expelled. The feeling is that, by gosh, it just wouldn’t be fair—in other words, the self-protectiveness of the old-boy network, even if it now includes girls. Elite schools nurture excellence, but they also nurture what a former Yale graduate student I know calls “entitled mediocrity.” A is the mark of excellence; A- is the mark of entitled mediocrity. It’s another one of those metaphors, not so much a grade as a promise. It means, don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. You may not be all that good, but you’re good enough.

Here, too, college reflects the way things work in the adult world (unless it’s the other way around). For the elite, there’s always another extension—a bailout, a pardon, a stint in rehab—always plenty of contacts and special stipends—the country club, the conference, the year-end bonus, the dividend. If Al Gore and John Kerry represent one of the characteristic products of an elite education, George W. Bush represents another. It’s no coincidence that our current president, the apotheosis of entitled mediocrity, went to Yale. Entitled mediocrity is indeed the operating principle of his administration, but as Enron and WorldCom and the other scandals of the dot-com meltdown demonstrated, it’s also the operating principle of corporate America. The fat salaries paid to underperforming CEOs are an adult version of the A-. Anyone who remembers the injured sanctimony with which Kenneth Lay greeted the notion that he should be held accountable for his actions will understand the mentality in question—the belief that once you’re in the club, you’ve got a God-given right to stay in the club. But you don’t need to remember Ken Lay, because the whole dynamic played out again last year in the case of Scooter Libby, another Yale man.

If one of the disadvantages of an elite education is the temptation it offers to mediocrity, another is the temptation it offers to security. When parents explain why they work so hard to give their children the best possible education, they invariably say it is because of the opportunities it opens up. But what of the opportunities it shuts down? An elite education gives you the chance to be rich—which is, after all, what we’re talking about—but it takes away the chance not to be. Yet the opportunity not to be rich is one of the greatest opportunities with which young Americans have been blessed. We live in a society that is itself so wealthy that it can afford to provide a decent living to whole classes of people who in other countries exist (or in earlier times existed) on the brink of poverty or, at least, of indignity. You can live comfortably in the United States as a schoolteacher, or a community organizer, or a civil rights lawyer, or an artist—that is, by any reasonable definition of comfort. You have to live in an ordinary house instead of an apartment in Manhattan or a mansion in L.A.; you have to drive a Honda instead of a BMW or a Hummer; you have to vacation in Florida instead of Barbados or Paris, but what are such losses when set against the opportunity to do work you believe in, work you’re suited for, work you love, every day of your life?

Yet it is precisely that opportunity that an elite education takes away. How can I be a schoolteacher—wouldn’t that be a waste of my expensive education? Wouldn’t I be squandering the opportunities my parents worked so hard to provide? What will my friends think? How will I face my classmates at our 20th reunion, when they’re all rich lawyers or important people in New York? And the question that lies behind all these: Isn’t it beneath me? So a whole universe of possibility closes, and you miss your true calling.

This is not to say that students from elite colleges never pursue a riskier or less lucrative course after graduation, but even when they do, they tend to give up more quickly than others. (Let’s not even talk about the possibility of kids from privileged backgrounds not going to college at all, or delaying matriculation for several years, because however appropriate such choices might sometimes be, our rigid educational mentality places them outside the universe of possibility—the reason so many kids go sleepwalking off to college with no idea what they’re doing there.) This doesn’t seem to make sense, especially since students from elite schools tend to graduate with less debt and are more likely to be able to float by on family money for a while. I wasn’t aware of the phenomenon myself until I heard about it from a couple of graduate students in my department, one from Yale, one from Harvard. They were talking about trying to write poetry, how friends of theirs from college called it quits within a year or two while people they know from less prestigious schools are still at it. Why should this be? Because students from elite schools expect success, and expect it now. They have, by definition, never experienced anything else, and their sense of self has been built around their ability to succeed. The idea of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them, defeats them. They’ve been driven their whole lives by a fear of failure—often, in the first instance, by their parents’ fear of failure. The first time I blew a test, I walked out of the room feeling like I no longer knew who I was. The second time, it was easier; I had started to learn that failure isn’t the end of the world.

But if you’re afraid to fail, you’re afraid to take risks, which begins to explain the final and most damning disadvantage of an elite education: that it is profoundly anti-intellectual. This will seem counterintuitive. Aren’t kids at elite schools the smartest ones around, at least in the narrow academic sense? Don’t they work harder than anyone else—indeed, harder than any previous generation? They are. They do. But being an intellectual is not the same as being smart. Being an intellectual means more than doing your homework.

If so few kids come to college understanding this, it is no wonder. They are products of a system that rarely asked them to think about something bigger than the next assignment. The system forgot to teach them, along the way to the prestige admissions and the lucrative jobs, that the most important achievements can’t be measured by a letter or a number or a name. It forgot that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.

Being an intellectual means, first of all, being passionate about ideas—and not just for the duration of a semester, for the sake of pleasing the teacher, or for getting a good grade. A friend who teaches at the University of Connecticut once complained to me that his students don’t think for themselves. Well, I said, Yale students think for themselves, but only because they know we want them to. I’ve had many wonderful students at Yale and Columbia, bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it’s been a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul. These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers.

Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions. I don’t think there ever was a golden age of intellectualism in the American university, but in the 19th century students might at least have had a chance to hear such questions raised in chapel or in the literary societies and debating clubs that flourished on campus. Throughout much of the 20th century, with the growth of the humanistic ideal in American colleges, students might have encountered the big questions in the classrooms of professors possessed of a strong sense of pedagogic mission. Teachers like that still exist in this country, but the increasingly dire exigencies of academic professionalization have made them all but extinct at elite universities. Professors at top research institutions are valued exclusively for the quality of their scholarly work; time spent on teaching is time lost. If students want a conversion experience, they’re better off at a liberal arts college.

When elite universities boast that they teach their students how to think, they mean that they teach them the analytic and rhetorical skills necessary for success in law or medicine or science or business. But a humanistic education is supposed to mean something more than that, as universities still dimly feel. So when students get to college, they hear a couple of speeches telling them to ask the big questions, and when they graduate, they hear a couple more speeches telling them to ask the big questions. And in between, they spend four years taking courses that train them to ask the little questions—specialized courses, taught by specialized professors, aimed at specialized students. Although the notion of breadth is implicit in the very idea of a liberal arts education, the admissions process increasingly selects for kids who have already begun to think of themselves in specialized terms—the junior journalist, the budding astronomer, the language prodigy. We are slouching, even at elite schools, toward a glorified form of vocational training.

Indeed, that seems to be exactly what those schools want. There’s a reason elite schools speak of training leaders, not thinkers—holders of power, not its critics. An independent mind is independent of all allegiances, and elite schools, which get a large percentage of their budget from alumni giving, are strongly invested in fostering institutional loyalty. As another friend, a third-generation Yalie, says, the purpose of Yale College is to manufacture Yale alumni. Of course, for the system to work, those alumni need money. At Yale, the long-term drift of students away from majors in the humanities and basic sciences toward more practical ones like computer science and economics has been abetted by administrative indifference. The college career office has little to say to students not interested in law, medicine, or business, and elite universities are not going to do anything to discourage the large percentage of their graduates who take their degrees to Wall Street. In fact, they’re showing them the way. The liberal arts university is becoming the corporate university, its center of gravity shifting to technical fields where scholarly expertise can be parlayed into lucrative business opportunities.

阿勋

男,80‘s,不是程序员,稍微懂点CSS/HTML/PS。 我是一名爱生活爱社会爱祖国的三爱青年,也是一名热心网友。 平时喜欢吐槽,偶尔来点幽默。 这就是iaxun.com

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