A part of me had thought I’d finally be revealed as an intellectual fraud, that the administration would realize they’d made a terrible mistake and send me back to Middletown with their sincerest apologies. Another part of me thought I’d be able to hack it but only with extraordinary dedication; after all, these were the brightest students in the world, and I did not qualify as such. But that didn’t end up being the case. Though there were rare geniuses walking the halls of the law school, most of my fellow students were smart but not intimidatingly so. In classroom discussions and on tests, I largely held my own.It's like that. The size of the fight in the dog and all that. Plus law school cannot be as challenging as Marine boot camp. But I highlight the article for a teachable moment that comes to some overbearing professor.
Not everything came easy. I always fancied myself a decent writer, but when I turned in a sloppy writing assignment to a famously stern professor, he handed it back with some extraordinarily critical commentary. “Not good at all,” he scribbled on one page. On another, he circled a large paragraph and wrote in the margin, “This is a vomit of sentences masquerading as a paragraph. Fix.” I heard through the grapevine that this professor thought Yale should accept only students from places like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton: “It’s not our job to do remedial education, and too many of these other kids need it.” That committed me to changing his mind. By the end of the semester, he called my writing “excellent” and admitted that he might have been wrong about state schools.And that, dear reader, is why faculty and administration at the state flagships, the land grants, the mid-majors, the regional comprehensives and community colleges (Dean Dad: "They need the nearby one to be good") ought view themselves as in the same business as Yale, and bring out the best in the students in their trust. Because a few will matriculate at Yale Law.
There's a lot in the essay suggesting why the upscale institutions of the higher learning might want to instill a sense of gratitude and empathy for others less advantaged (which now sails under the flag of privilege checking.)
But read this. Contra F. Scott Fitzgerald, there's more to the difference of the rich than having more money.
The wealthy and the powerful aren’t just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores. When you go from working-class to professional-class, almost everything about your old life becomes unfashionable at best or unhealthy at worst. At no time was this more obvious than the first (and last) time I took a Yale friend to Cracker Barrel. In my youth, it was the height of fine dining—my grandma’s and my favorite restaurant. With Yale friends, it was a greasy public health crisis.For all of their radical chic, those backslid preppies understand bourgeois conventions and can revert to them once they move to Wall Street or Official Washington, and those who migrate to the pro-American parts of the country can master enough good manners to conceal their contempt for their neighbors and their professional counterparts with less fancy degrees. Possibly including joining colleagues at a sports bar or a Cracker Barrel. Those status markers are symbols.
These aren’t exactly major problems, and if given the option all over again, I’d trade a bit of social discomfort for the life I lead in a heartbeat. But as I realized that in this new world where I was the cultural alien, I began to think seriously about questions that had nagged at me since I was a teenager: Why has no one else from my high school made it to the Ivy League? Why are people like me so poorly represented in America’s elite institutions? Why is domestic strife so common in families like mine? Why did I think that places like Yale and Harvard were so unreachable? Why did successful people feel so different?
On the other hand, fifty or sixty years of affirming the authenticity (a euphemism for "behaving badly") of people in straitened circumstances behaving badly, rather than as a matter of education and public policy, inculcating the habits of the middle class, brings us to a pass where the "successful people feel so different." It's the trashy culture, stupid.