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A Thought for Today

by Terrell Tebbetts                  


The July 21 issue of New Republic magazine has an article important for students making college choices and for their families. I have a Lyon alumnus and friend to thank for sending it to me. The article is titled “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The Nation’s Top Colleges Are Turning Our Kids into Zombies.” Its writer, William Deresiewicz, spent 24 years studying in and working for Ivy League institutions, so he knows them and knows the college scene well. Deresiewicz critiques the Ivies mostly for perpetuating the American class system, the system under general attack for privileging the top 1% of the population. But he also critiques the quality of education at the Ivies and the elite cohort of similar colleges and universities they head. Here’s what he says about education at such schools: “. . . professors and students have largely entered into what one observer called a ‘nonaggression pact.’ Students are regarded by the institution as ‘customers,’ people to be pandered to instead of challenged. Professors are rewarded for research, so they want to spend as little time on their classes as they can. The profession’s whole incentive structure is biased against teaching, and the more prestigious the school, the stronger the bias is likely to be. The result is higher marks for shoddier work.” Chilling, isn’t it! It certainly is to me as a college prof with 48 years of experience in which I’ve challenged students to rise to all they’re capable of. Deresiewicz goes on the suggest alternatives that provide better educations than the Ivies. First he mentions public universities like the UofA and UCA: “There are still very good public universities in every region of the country. The education is often impersonal, but the student body is usually genuinely diverse in terms of socioeconomic background, with all of the invaluable experiential learning that implies.” The “impersonal” part is a negative, of course, but students can learn by living and working with people from different backgrounds. Then he gets to the colleges that really challenge their students to learn, liberal arts colleges like Lyon: “If there is anywhere that college is still college—anywhere that teaching and the humanities are still accorded pride of place—it is the liberal arts college. . . . Instead of trying to compete with Harvard and Yale, these schools have retained their allegiance to real educational values.” Amen, say I. As does the 1970s alumnus who sent me the article. Here are his comments: “This article most succinctly captures my reasons for not attending an Ivy League school way back when even you looked like a kid.  It also fit my strategy for attending a liberal arts college and doing my damnedest to maintain a normal ‘C’ average so I’d be more well-rounded and accepted by ‘normal’ people —- like yourself. Love you, Brother!” Thanks, Mike. Terrell Tebbetts is the Martha Heasley Cox Chair in American Literature at Lyon College. He can be reached at