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The Best and the Brightest Led America Off a Cliff

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Posted on Dec 8, 2008
AP photo / Douglas Healey

By Chris Hedges

The multiple failures that beset the country, from our mismanaged economy to our shredded constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the feet of our elite universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers. The collapse of the country runs in a direct line from the manicured quadrangles and halls in places like Cambridge, Princeton and New Haven to the financial and political centers of power. 

The nation’s elite universities disdain honest intellectual inquiry, which is by its nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent and often subversive. They organize learning around minutely specialized disciplines, narrow answers and rigid structures that are designed to produce certain answers. The established corporate hierarchies these institutions service—economic, political and social—come with clear parameters, such as the primacy of an unfettered free market, and with a highly specialized vocabulary. This vocabulary, a sign of the “specialist” and of course the elitist, thwarts universal understanding. It keeps the uninitiated from asking unpleasant questions. It destroys the search for the common good. It dices disciplines, faculty, students and finally experts into tiny, specialized fragments. It allows students and faculty to retreat into these self-imposed fiefdoms and neglect the most pressing moral, political and cultural questions. Those who defy the system—people like Ralph Nader—are branded as irrational and irrelevant. These elite universities have banished self-criticism. They refuse to question a self-justifying system. Organization, technology, self-advancement and information systems are the only things that matter. 

“Political silence, total silence,” said Chris Hebdon, a Berkeley undergraduate. He went on to describe how various student groups gather at Sproul Plaza, the center of student activity at the University of California, Berkeley. These groups set up tables to recruit and inform other students, a practice know as “tabling.”

“Students table for Darfur, no one tables for Iraq. Tables on Sproul Plaza are ethnically fragmented, explicitly pre-professional (The Asian American Pre-Law or Business or Pre-Medicine Association). Never have I seen a table on globalization or corporatization. Students are as distracted and specialized and atomized as most of their professors. It’s vertical integration gone cultural. And never, never is it cutting-edge. Berkeley loves the slogan ‘excellence through diversity,’ which is a farce of course if one checks our admissions stats (most years we have only one or two entering Native Americans), but few recognize multiculturalism’s silent partner—fragmentation into little markets. Our Sproul Plaza shows that so well—the same place Mario Savio once stood on top a police car is filled with tens of tables for the pre-corporate, the ethnic, the useless cynics, the recreational groups, etc.”

I sat a few months ago with a former classmate from Harvard Divinity School who is now a theology professor. When I asked her what she was teaching, she unleashed a torrent of obscure academic code words. I did not understand, even with three years of seminary, what she was talking about. You can see this absurd retreat into specialized, impenetrable verbal enclaves in every graduate department across the country. The more these universities churn out these stunted men and women, the more we are flooded with a peculiar breed of specialist. This specialist blindly services tiny parts of a corporate power structure he or she has never been taught to question and looks down on the rest of us with thinly veiled contempt.

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I was sent to boarding school on a scholarship at the age of 10. By the time I had finished eight years in New England prep schools and another eight at Colgate and Harvard, I had a pretty good understanding of the game. I have also taught at Columbia, New York University and Princeton. These institutions, no matter how mediocre you are, feed students with the comforting self-delusion that they are there because they are not only the best but they deserve the best. You can see this attitude on display in every word uttered by George W. Bush. Here is a man with severely limited intellectual capacity and no moral core. He, along with “Scooter” Libby, who attended my boarding school and went on to Yale, is an example of the legions of self-centered mediocrities churned out by places like Andover, Yale and Harvard. Bush was, like the rest of his caste, propelled forward by his money and his connections. That is the real purpose of these well-endowed schools—to perpetuate their own. 

“There’s a certain kind of student at these schools who falls in love with the mystique and prestige of his own education,” said Elyse Graham, whom I taught at Princeton and who is now doing graduate work at Yale. “This is the guy who treats his time at Princeton as a scavenger hunt for Princetoniana and Princeton nostalgia: How many famous professors can I collect? And so on. And he comes away not only with all these props for his sense of being elect, but also with the smoothness that seems to indicate wide learning; college socializes you, so you learn to present even trite ideas well.”


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By Folktruther, December 9, 2008 at 2:40 am Link to this comment

It may be, Ihherit, that it takes courage to think. 
It is necessary to overcome our preconceptions and presuppositions that are indoctrinated into us from childhood, when we are most impressionable, credulous and powerless to resist authroity.

For most of us this courage can only be provided by obsession.  In order to think new thoughts, it is necessary to be at least a little insane.  One must be driven by forces that overcome what authority teaches us and with which we once identified.  Most Normal people not only don’t do this, they don’t want to do it.  They prefer survival to crreation, a reasonable choice.

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By CCosner, December 9, 2008 at 12:14 am Link to this comment
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Thinking for oneself is a concept that is not grasped by my generation and it bothers me extensively. I am a college freshman at small state school. My family is educated but are of working class. I came from a high school that was quite rigorous for a public school. When I came to college I thought that I would be surrounded by intellectuals who where willing to question society. Thus is not the case. I walked out my writing class and realized that I was surrounded by students that have not been taught to write or think. The instructor was not much better. Fortunately I am taking an Honors class which deals directly with the War on Terror. Still, out of a class of 15 about 5 of us engage in intelligent conversation. 

I suppose my point is this. There are still young students out there that are not afraid to challenge authority or afraid to think. I will complete my education. I will study what I want. I will learn for the sake of learning, not because I feel as though I have to. I hope there are more out there like myself.

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By ernestb, December 8, 2008 at 11:38 pm Link to this comment
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This was an enjoyable read. I don’t live in the US so I don’t know whether the analysis about the elite universities is true or not, but outsiders can sure have an opinion about the apparent intelligence and awareness of public figures who have been to these universities. George Bush (from an elite university) often seems unable to string a couple of sentences together without listeners cringing. Just today it has been reported that he said “I’m just a simple President”. The master of understatement. One is not surprised by the anti-intellectual stance of much of the population, but it is surprising when it is seen in people who have been elected to high office. The other issue is the lack of curiosity - especially to cultures outside of the US. The insularity of the US is disturbing - even though I often hear people talk about the ‘global village’. The lack of appreciation of other perspectives was exemplified by the invasion of Iraq and the apparent failure by the Republican Government to foresee the troubles that would ensue with the various religious groups.
Hedges shoves Obama into the elite university educated group, but there is a vital difference between him and the silver-spooned Bushes: he has come from the working class! Although he is wealthy now, I understand he and Michelle only paid off their student loans 4-5 years ago. Not only that, he has lived in another culture (Indonesia).
The one disappointing part of the article by Hedges is his implied belief in a Sky God. One of the things that astonishes those of us who live in a largely secular society, where religious affiliation is adhered to by quite a small part of the population, is how religion permeates so much of American life, and how it is virtually a pre-requisite for public office.  I doubt if Obama had confessed to atheism or even agnosticism he would have gotten past the first political hurdles!

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By Bladerunner, December 8, 2008 at 11:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The article is just a well thought out generalization.

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By alpacalips now, December 8, 2008 at 11:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The words of the ever-living Bob Marley say it best:

We refuse to be what you wanted us to be
We are what we are
And that’s the way it’s going to be
You can’t educate us for no equal opportunity
Talking about freedom people
People freedom and liberty
We’ve been trodding on your winepress much too long
Rebel, Rebel
We’ve been taking it for granted much too long
Rebel, rebel
Trodding on your winepress and trampled on
Rebel, you’ve got to rebel yeah, rebel
Babylon System is the Vampire, falling empire
Sucking the blood of the sufferers,
Building church and university
Deceiving the people continually
Graduating thieves and murderers
Look out now, they’re sucking the blood of the sufferers
Tell the children the truth, tell the children the truth

- Survival

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By Jon, December 8, 2008 at 11:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

University faculty and their universities have sold out to ‘industry,’ and no longer offer substantial education to students.  Industry partnerships have torn away the independent thinking of researchers and faculty in general, who look to industry for their intellectual marching orders, with tacit approval—and some cases specific direction—- of university department heads and university presidents.

The elite schools additionally carry the virus called ‘you are here because you are superior,’ and thus inject students with an attitude that trumps their actual abilities.

Thus, you get a Robert Rubin, or Henry Paulson, looking down their nose at American workers, because they never took that course on how wealth is created, but instead took a cool seminar on credit default swaps given by Goldman Sachs or Citigroup.

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By rage, December 8, 2008 at 10:54 pm Link to this comment
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This is such a hot steaming load! C’mon! It’s come down to the idiot media’s castigation of scholars who have received degrees from ivy league institutions of higher learning, just because of the failings and the ills demonstrated daily by the patently affluent Bush Administration? How ridiculous!

Say whatever you will, but ivy league academia still metriculates productive scholars who really are amongst our best and brightest stars. We need every damned one of them, too. In case we’ve really forgotten why it is imperative that we dispense with this age of American ignorance, think Sarah Louise Heath Palin. The potential of some oaf occupying any office that’s not padded after seeing Russia from her porch sans the benefit of weed more than substantiates the cautionary dangers of perpetually rewarding stupidity in the delusional guise of advancing the fortunes of ‘regular’ people. After all, there was nothing exactly ‘regular’ about the irrational 2000 obsession the nation had for swilling a beer with Chimperor Dumya the Most Feckless, whose tiny IQ happens to be considerably lower than snail piss.

The truth is America was never this concerned with the ‘detriments’ of an ivy league education back when the SCOTUS TWICE appointed a big-eared, brain-dead babboon to hold our nation’s highest Office, only for that little twit to shred the Constitution. Ivy league snobbery only became an issue when an erudite qualified Constitutional Law scholar went on to graduate HARVARD with the distinction of honors, and managed to run the most fierce presidential campaign since FDR’s first term. Now that this honored Constitutional Law scholar-turned-professor has become President-Elect, and is filling his cabinet with other honors graduates and Rhodes Scholars, the idiot media now wants to diminish the accomplisment of having earned a sheep skin from an ivy league college.

How pathetic! America is not the land of the dumb and the home of the knave, just because an arrogant pedigreed simpleton holding a prestigious MBA purchased from an ivy league institution by his wealthy family’s cash and influence has illegally occupied our highest office for much too long. A hard earned college degree is still far more than a worthless piece of paper egregiously denoting the mundanely pedestrian accomplishments of some pridefully sanctimonious narcissist who has fallen “in love with the mystique and prestige of his own education.” America still needs academians to raise the bar over which our aggregate intelligence and our resourceful, collective engenuity will gloriously take us all in the future.

Come, come, people. The Bush43 Presidency is more a testament of Bush Family pathocratic deviance than evidence of any demonstrative damage collaterally resultant from engaging ivy league academia. Prince Dumya’s obnoxiously folksy stupidity is not only tritely obtuse, but was rather wearisomely gauche long before the 2007 Chancellor Merkel groping, long before his pea-brainedness dug two joints up his nose to retreive and eat a Texas gubernatoral booger at Ranger Stadium, and certainly long before Obama. The President-Elect can hardly help it that smart is the new sexy, while category-10 Presidential brain damage is so passe.

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By Clash, December 8, 2008 at 10:45 pm Link to this comment

Just wanted to thank all of you for saving us poor stupid working people.

Didn’t go to college and come to think of it had to start feeding myself before I dropped out of high school. Good thing there was economic conscription back in the 70’s just like now.

Shit what happened to the 80’s, to much cocaine ronnraygun to tough, the 90’s to busy making money. Well it’s somebodys fault, ya ya we the unwashed were asleep it’s our fault, no its the mans fault.

Justice is eaqul to how much you can pay, try to get a college boy worth a f@*k to deffend you for nothing.
 
Haven’t seen much change for the betterment of us low life’s for a long time now.

Made the best of what was there woudn’t change nothin. Definition of FREEDOM; nothing to lose.

So who are the lemmings really?

Never voted for the right, collected social welfare, borrowed more than could be paid back. Left right it is all the same. Polands solidarity points this out, no matter who takes control they will sell out to keep the power they gain.

TAO Walker I hope you are correct, I see owl left and right,crow behind an cyote infront face in the breeze.

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By colin2626262, December 8, 2008 at 9:36 pm Link to this comment

You can’t teach this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf7P2zKu-Yk

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By Seeker, December 8, 2008 at 9:33 pm Link to this comment
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This article does not appear to be analytical in the least.  Neither does it address whatever it is attempting to address on any other rational basis.  It appears to be merely a collection of assertions that are motivated by a type of rabid negativity toward academia.  It appears to prejudge and condemn everyone with high levels of analytical aptitude, especially when they graduate from certain schools of higher learning, regardless of their life choices or political affiliations.
  One cannot solve one’s problems by covering one’s eyes with the blindness of prejudice or any other blindness.  One must uncover one’s eyes and attempt to see reality for what it is using all of the proven tools available.  Education does not make the educated infallible or any more moral than the uneducated citizen.  Further, the lack of education does not make the uneducated citizen any more infallible or moral than the educated citizen.  However, I would assert that it takes an informed, i.e., educated, citizenry to preserve a strong democracy.
  I thoroughly disagree with the assertions of this article and assert that better thinking skill is the primary benefit of a higher education.  That is not to say that every graduate has a high level of skill in this regard; just that they generally have a higher level of skill than they possessed when they started out.  This has been proven over and over again in the statistical observance of their lives as compared to those who have less education, although this comparison is not absolute.  For instance, the founder of Ford motor company had little formal education.
  As to the source of the current problem, it is my humble opinion that it is the direct result of the political philosophy of a bunch of politicians elected to govern that did not believe in government (so-called conservatives).  How can you effectively govern if you disdain the job of governing.  In our system there must be checks and balances not just within the government but between the government and the people and between the government and business.  The philosophy of these conservatives left critical business activities with little or no oversight, business activities of entities whose only consuming passion is for profit.  This was equivalent to putting the fox in the hen house and bolting the door expecting the fox to be honorable and resist temptation.  Such philosophies, inevitably, lead to failure.
  If we are looking for someone to blame, we need only look into a mirror.  I believe everyone, especially the intelligent person who wrote this article, could see this train wreck coming.  No sensible household could continue in the financial manner in which this country has been run in the past eight years.  Why did we re-elect this president?  Why weren’t we more vocal?  Why didn’t we make our voices heard to Congress more?  And if you couldn’t see it coming, well criticism…

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By Inherit The Wind, December 8, 2008 at 9:32 pm Link to this comment

Folktruther, December 8 at 12:23 pm #

Hell, Anarcissie, I’m bitterly disappointed in you.  I thought you were uneducated.  Unfortunately it is a minute minority of students at the Elite universities who rebell most systematically against it.  I was hoping you developed your worldview entirely from unschooled sources.

Now, I happen to be a high school dropout myself.  My big mistake was going to the U of Chicago, where they took students before they graduated highschool.  Fortunately I’ve always been kind of stupid so the stuff didn’t penetrate so good.  And of course, like everyone else, I’ve gotten dumber and dumber as I got older and older.

At the U of Chicago, where Obama taught, they are building a 200 million dollar Milton Friedman Center.  Despite vigorous protest from some of the faculty.  They continue to dun me for contributions, occasionally by phone.  But they have not yet built a Pinochet wing to it, despite my suggestions as to where they could stick it.

Ihe increase in fees to the Elite schools is part of the general increase in class inequality, and why class-based power structures decay.  The injustice, irrationality, and barbarism become so widespread that decent people who want to identify with authorized power can’t rationalize it anymore.  So a section of the Elite become declassed and lead the population against the power structure.  This has now reached as far as Hedges.  Not much further to go historically.
**********************************************

FT, for once I agree with you.  Especially the part about you getting dumber and dumber as you get older.

But the rest I agree with as well.

Hedges is f***ing hypocrite.  He’s just as elitist as these universities he berates.  THEY assume they are the elite…and Hedges sneers at them because HE really is the elite.

Undergraduate schools will teach you what you want.  Want to just get by on “slides” taking “Rocks for Jocks” or “Physics for Poets”? No problem.  Want to get a REAL education where you learn how to THINK?  You have to work for it and fight for it and find the professors who RELISH being challenged.  It’s no different now than in the 70’s, when I went to school.

Graduate school has always been a sick, warped hazing program where TRUE original thinking is usually frowned on, unless they figure you have a Nobel prize for Chemistry or a Pulitzer prize for History in your future.

Yeah.  Harvard turns out MBAs who think of acquisitions and synergies and economies of scale.  And they turn out lawyers who treat the law as a weapon.  Why?  Because students in these two programs figure that’s Easy Street to Big Bucks.  One feeds off the other.

But if children are taught to think at an early age, and by High School are into true critical thinking, then THEY are going to not be satisfied with the cookie-cutter approach.

Still, this whole article is nothing but a sham.  It’s all just a set-up so Hedges can bomb Obama one more time, by pretending that he isn’t REALLY smart…because he went to these schools 25 years ago.  Yeah, all Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford are is diploma mills….

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By Steven, December 8, 2008 at 8:36 pm Link to this comment
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While I always feel Hedge’s articles are over the top, he makes a simple argument more complicated.  The American Way has morphed into the My Way.  No longer do we value our community, only ourselves.  These elite universities are only a part of the problem.  We search far and wide for the lifestyle that will bring us the most money, the biggest house, or the nicest car.  Seldom do we look for the place that will bring us the most happiness.  Greed has taken us to the edge or close to it.  Unfettered capitalism, via corporate America, have destroyed our liberty.  The government is set take over.  Those who profess to hate government, have through their ignorance and greed allowed this institution to turn us into serfs, while the rest of us stayed silent.  The Founding Father’s would be appalled at how we have allowed a national government to rule over us all.  Instead of protecting the individual as they once dreamed, it now rules like the monarchs of old.  A sad realization, realized too late.  The only way to change is revolution which the people of this country have neither the desire nor the heart to accomplish.

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By Anarcissie, December 8, 2008 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment

Stephen—Generally, I think the use of the term reality is an assertion of power.  The view of the powerful is asserted to be real and that of the less powerful or powerless is unreal.  The famous quote that circulated some years ago about the Bush administration creating new realities while liberals were trying to digest the old ones was a curious reversal of the usual rhetoric.  But I doubt if George or Dick or Condoleezza would have signed on to that rhetoric anyway.  It is redolent of the Left, of the supposed resuited Trotskyites who inhabit the realm of Neo-con.  It echoes of such as “The unreal is ever at war with the real, the unreal striving to be born, the real to keep it from being born.”  Strange stuff to be emanating from the Right, but maybe that’s the way Augustus felt when he was just starting out.  Someone should look into it.

To wander back to the subject (inevitably wandered away from in these little writebites) I don’t see prestigious academic institutions as being set up to benefit the lives of those who attend them in any general way.  I believe they were founded primarily in order to produce new members and agents of the ruling class, and secondarily to do intellectual work for their masters, to serve as the brain of the beast.  I am sure in their private moments those who matter would say that those who want better lives should go practice yoga or flower gardening.  Which is real, imperialism or yoga?  If you gotta ask, you ain’t never gonna know.

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By purplewolf, December 8, 2008 at 7:49 pm Link to this comment

bmeisem: The $40,000/yr was not the cost of Harvard for a year. It was talking about the yearly income of poor families who might qualify for grants/loans to send a child to Harvard if they can pass the entry tests-if they still require pretesting to see if one qualified to attend college as they did in the 1970’s.

These colleges are not being patriotic as they do not charge such a low amount of money($40,000.00) to further ones education, they are much more costly. My daughter went to University of Michigan in the 1990’s and it was not as expensive as Harvard, Yale or other colleges mentioned here and it was a minimum of $100,000.00.

Education is not equal intelligence.

Many “special” people get into these colleges simply because their families donated large amounts of money and there are favors due for this. Regardless of the rules, many unqualified people go to these places of higher education for the wrong reasons and care nothing of the outcome of applying oneself to attain the best education they can. Debt qwed not paid off. Unfortunately, these usually are the same unqualified people who end up running the country and making the rules with no idea what they are doing.Case in point:G.W.Bush

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By Fadel Abdallah, December 8, 2008 at 7:39 pm Link to this comment

Another superb piece by Chris Hedges! Factual and well-researched! And as a product of graduate education in America, though not an ivory league one, and later as a professor at several universities, I validate most of what Chis Hedges has said.

One point of disagreement with Chris Hedges is about the title of the piece. The title I would paraphrase as, “The Presumed Best and Brightest Helped Leading America Off a Cliff.”

Ivory league graduates are the products of what they were trained to be: that’s material and star power status and extreme individualism. The main problem with higher education in America these days is that it does not promote the public interest into private and personal education.

However, it has not always been that bad. When I was a graduate student working on my PH.D at the University of Minnesota in the early 1980’s, I wrote a paper for a seminar class comparing communism with capitalism, and though I astonished my professor and my colleagues with the conclusion of my paper in which I predicted the downfall of communism on the one hand and the immanent troubles of capitalism on the other. One point I argued was that communism, by denying God, will eventually become irrelevant. On the other hand, extreme capitalism leads to the worship of Mammon. I argued in favor of benevolent socialism as something in the middle of the way. Though my professor had a reservation about me getting into the business of prediction, I still received an “A” for my work.

In later years, as a professor, I started to notice the gradual decline in both the quality and integrity of students as they became more concerned with studying for the tests and grades and their increasing obsession with sports and television.

I always lamented the increasing exaggerated interest in sports at universities at the expense of real education, to the point that I once wrote a piece, titled “Sports as the Opium of Capitalism.”

I still believe that man cannot worship two gods simultaneously: True God (i.e.universal human values) and Mammon!

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By Little Brother, December 8, 2008 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment

Well observed, Chris.

This essay resonates with the view that our political class has become a professionalized elite of technocrats, and that our political institutions have transmogrified in plain sight into para-corporate service delivery systems occupied with self-serving, ambitious managers. 

Political office, at least on the federal level, turns each politician into the CEO of a wholly-owned subsidiary devoted to acquiring and controlling capital—the capital available in legislative funding acquired from tax revenue, and the capital acquired in campaign funding necessary to perpetuate the franchise.

The spiritually vacant process-wonks you describe compose the legions of wraiths in service of this humanity-devouring Mammon.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, December 8, 2008 at 6:04 pm Link to this comment

One has to admire Hedges’ precious idealism, all spit-n-polished to a shine. His piece presupposes some educational arcadia from which we have been cast out. This outlier has no clue what he’s talking about. Our educational system is and always has been a socializing mechanism, a method to prepare innocents for the role they are about to play in the game-of-life we call the American Way.

Hedges may be talking about artists, and what Europeans call the intellectual class. These are people who somehow survive an inculcation designed to put the cog in cognition with their spine still connected to their cerebral cortex. But despite all the wishful thinking, private schools, and doting, flashcard wielding parents, not everyone can be exceptional. Should we expect the system to gear itself toward those lucky, or cursed few, especially if it means entire generations unfit for their work-a-day world because of the lofty ideas preoccupying their minds?

What Hedges is talking about is a page-one rewrite of the civilization script. But before you jump on that train keep in mind that your character may be the first to go in the new scenario. And no matter how hard we try, those stories always seem to end up with the same third act.

One’s humanity won’t be found in a classroom, it never has.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 8, 2008 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie, there is also a version by Simone Signoret, which you should enjoy, since it was the original French title of her memoirs:

http://therehearsalstudio.blogspot.com/2008/08/nostalgia-isnt-what-it-used-to-be.html

As was the case with the illiteracy Column, the Comments already seem to be getting off the track.  I would modestly propose that we pay more attention to that sentence contributed by punkdudeus:  “Most people have no clue of what they want to do, and it freaks them out.”  I would modestly submit that our entire educational process (push back as far as you like, as long as we do not talk about playing Mozart for pre-natals) does nothing to encourage kids to think about what they will do in adult life.  The educational system has thus ceded this responsibility to mass media, which basically spin fantasies about high-paid stars (athletes, pop singers, movie actors) and SURVIVOR survivors (so to speak).  In the latest NEW YORK REVIEW Darryl Pinckney declared, “The Bush-Cheney administration was at war with reality.”  Is it any wonder that they could wage that war with such success?

http://therehearsalstudio.blogspot.com/2008/11/legacy-chutzpah.html

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By Spiritgirl, December 8, 2008 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment

“These institutions, no matter how mediocre you are, feed students with the comforting self-delusion that they are there because they are not only the best but they deserve the best. You can see this attitude on display in every word uttered by George W. Bush. Here is a man with severely limited intellectual capacity and no moral core.”

As a product of the public education system, I must admit that I was taught to analyze, ask questions, and not to believe everything that is spoken or in print without doing some type of investigation on my own to make up my mind.  Over the last 30+ years as attitudes have changed and Americans have bought into the rhetoric of concepts that defy logic or bs - it would appear that those articles of instruction were lost on the people that have come up behind me.

Your pointing out George W. makes my argument - in theory his previous life record (CEO of many failed businesses and Governor) should have been proof enough that he can’t find his way out of a paper bag, however, the dumbed down populace of this nation embraced him in 2004!  This is all a product of a very corrupted educational system, that we as a society need to take back and ensure that it functions to truly educate our future generations!  Until we all wake up and demand more accountability and responsibility from ourselves and those that we put into office - we will continue the insanity that has us sliding down into a hell of our own making!

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By Arthur, December 8, 2008 at 4:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This post reminds of a man I knew named John.  People called him ‘John the Indian’. John was member of the Micmac tribe in Canada, lived on a reservation managed by the government.  With a third grade education and thirst of alcohol he began to wander on his own in his teens.  After five years of odd jobs and many bottles of Sneaky Pete wine, he wound up in eastern Massachusetts.  One Sunday morning he bummed the price of a cup of coffee, and while sitting in a diner overheard gentleman say that he needed his house painted.  John thought to himself, “I can do that.”  Later, John said that that that was first clear thought of his own that he could ever remember having.  He became a successful painter and in retirement became a curator of Native American art museum in Maine. 
My point is that what is really important is what do you think. 
Our future, like the fox in the rhyme “The fox is the finder, the scent lays behind her.” might be in our past, if we don’t start thinking for ourselves.

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By sheila, December 8, 2008 at 3:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You sort of lost me when you bragged that not only are you a product of these elite universities but then you became a professor at them.

I wonder what schools did your son apply to?  Where is he now? Was he spurned or accepted?.

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By Psychoderilect, December 8, 2008 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment
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Interesting except that the entire American education system is plagued by the disease of teaching towards standardized tests. Most of these tests don’t really test a student’s abilities outside of their ability to take a test. What set America apart in the past was innovation not complacency to arbitrary standards.

It is not just the ‘elite’ ivy league universities that are in trouble. Universities in general have become corporations and franchises with a focus on generating more money for the board of trustees than actually providing any semblance of a higher education.

A great example being Ohio State University, a public state university far from being ivy league. The school mostly revolves around the OSU Buckeye franchise as that generates the most money year after year, especially with football. The school dismantled their large main library, tore down their student union, and built several new athletic centers including an immense building larger than a Super Wal-Mart solely for the football team with state of the art lounges set up for primarily playing XBox.

Professors can no longer afford to spend time to be teachers when they are pressured to bring in grant money for the school or else lose tenure or be removed all together. Consequently it has become a rare occurrence to see a professor standing in front of a class of students rather than a grad student or TA.

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By diamond, December 8, 2008 at 3:32 pm Link to this comment

America’s higher education system was taken over and muzzled during the cold war and it’s never really recovered. There was a brief break out during the Vietnam war but that was driven by self-interest (conscription being the ultimate attack on free thought and free speech) and also by the anti-establishment hedonism of the hippie movement. People genuinely believed they could change the world -and they have, as anyone who lived through the fifties can tell you - but the CIA and the Pentagon not only survived, they flourished. Which is why you have the war on terror and the war on free thought and free speech running in parallel. They are in fact one and the same.

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By mill, December 8, 2008 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

Mr Hedges overgeneralizes.  A few elitists lead us over the cliff.  Don’t blame the alma mater though.  Or the vast majority of graduates from those fine schools.  Most of them are not culpable for the current crises left to us by a few key Wall Street and Washington elitists, mostly from the far right wing of American political thinking.

That Bush didn’t benefit from his exposure to top-notch universities indicts Mr. Bush, not the universities.

I blame rightwing extremist ideology about unrestrained free markets, and delusional expectations for success with activist international policies

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By Garth, December 8, 2008 at 3:17 pm Link to this comment
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What bothers me about the futurists, the ones with the grand educations, is that they’re never around to help pick up the pieces whether the future comes early or late.
They’re the ones who come over at quarter to five on a Friday at work, and say, “All you gotta do is…........”  Then, they walk out the door.

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By Marvyn, December 8, 2008 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment
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As Bill Veeck said about baseball, “It’s not the high price of talent that’s killing the game.  It’s the high price of mediocrity.”
That might be true as well for Higher Education.

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By jj, December 8, 2008 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment
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As a business school student and government employee, I see blind obedience to a governmental and business elite with a disdain towards working people and the imperfect labor unions that represent them.  It’s seems that MBA students are robotically trained to believe that all working people exploit the worker’s comp, health, and collective bargaining systems that are available to them while executives in business and in government are honest, salt of the earth types who deserve to be paid enormous sums of money.  In following “the news,” I read about how the candidates for open senate seats are Bill Clinton, Caroline Kennedy, Andrew Cuomo, Jeb Bush, Beau Biden, and Jesse Jackson Jr.  Not to mention how perilously close this country came to 20 plus consecutive years of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton presidencies Here in Sacramento, CA, I’m represented in Congress by the widow of the last member of Congress from this district.  Beneath that, I see how lucrative jobs in the public and private sector are given to relatives of influential people.  Underlying this problem is a lack of social mobility.  If more Americans feel that being in the “elite” is a function of family connections and family money, then what makes us different from third-world countries in which the same families control both the government and the economy?  This is the kind of thing that Thomas Jefferson worried about during the birth of this country- a concentrated elite acting tyranically over the people.

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By TAO Walker, December 8, 2008 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment

Chris Hedges’ pre-post-mortem on the “global” corpus defunctum here probably is close enough for government work.  Like the “Berzerkley” student below, though, this old Indian sees a lot less cause for gloom-and-doom than Hedges and some of those commenting here seem inclined-to.

That’s mainly because not only has the organic functional integrity of Humanity persisted (however ruthlessly suppressed) through this ten-thousand-year stress-to-destruct test now coming to its inevitable conclusion, but our tormentors are theirownselfs right at THE (“business”) END of both the shitty schtick they’ve been beating us with and the rope we so generously provided for their own self-inflicted suspension of dis-belief.  They are even now reaping the “rewards” due all who pridefully insist on fucking-with Mother ‘n’ Father Nature.

So as the domesticated peoples reach the end of the world as they’ve known it, this old unreconstructed Savage urges our tame Sisters and Brothers so afflicted not to be afraid.  Your Native Country, the Song ‘n’ Dance of Life Herownself, is about to reclaim the “territory” so viciously occupied by this killing contraption you’ve been taught to call (adoringly) “civilization.”  You are about to recover the free wild natural “estate” of the Human Being.

Take it from your old Turtle Island Native friend here, you’re gonna LOVE it!

HokaHey!

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By Xntrk, December 8, 2008 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment
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Is anyone surprised by Hedge’s comments? Have you all seen this web site: http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/quiz.aspx

This Civics Quiz supposedly has an average score of 49%, with College Educators averaging 55%.

I scored 91%. I missed 3 questions, all dealing with economics. I don’t understand the jargon very well, obviously. I did send them a critique tho. All of the economic questions were based on the assumption that the only answer would be a Capitalist/Free Trade answer. No other choices were available. Workers Rights, Socialism, or even Fair Trade were not options.

I had no idea that according to the current gods that rule us we not only have a Capitalist Corporate form of Government, but it was pre-ordained by the Constitution [This is a ‘Civics Test’ not Econ 101].

I also agree with Chris Hedges’ observation that Obama is a product of this environment of prestigious schools, and suffers the same disadvantages.

That may explain his lack of curiosity about other places and people. I know he was raised in Hawaii, and traveled to Asia and Africa as a young child. But, As an adult, he has only been to Mexico, and only one time on vacation. No lengthy trips traveling on 2nd class buses to see how the people really live rather then staying at a resort.

No observations of the stark class barriers in southern Mexico in the 70s when Gringos and the rich went to the head of the line. Not watching from one side as the Bus is emptied by AKC armed soldiers and the locals are searched and questioned as part of US mandated drug interdictions. As a Gringa, I got a free pass [good thing too, I has a couple of joints tucked away]

I’m over 70, but I spent 3 weeks in Cuba this spring, because I wanted to see it for myself before Fidel is gone [he retired while I was there].

How can some one who is supposedly so bright not want to learn about the many changing places in our world, whether it be Greenland to see Global Warming, or Venezuela to learn the truth about Chavez, or maybe Bolivia to see Evo kick a soccer ball. Then there is China where I spent a month with a University Class in 2006 chasing Confucius; or Cook Islands in 2004 where I got my tattoo.

It’s a big world, with too much to see and do in one lifetime. And Obama has effectively closed that door for himself and his family. They will do much traveling, but never without their armed guards and palace yesmen. No 2nd Class bus for them, even if they wanted to.

I doubt if Obama has the talent and skill of Bill Moyers and Studs Terkel when it come to interviewing people. That would be one way to actually learn about other societies without traveling yourself. Once again though, it would require great curiosity, which appears to be lacking.

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By G.Anderson, December 8, 2008 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment

When ever I read a post like this I am reminded of a friend who got through a graduate degree at Harvard without being able to read. My own experience is that many seek an education at these school based soley on the name recognition that they have and little else. 

Rarely do I speak to anyone under the age of 40, without the first word they utter being ummm…

In the last 30 years what has America accomplished? 
We’ve gone from a producing nation, to a nation that only produces debt, and sells that debt to investors from other countries. We are dependent on debt, and debt is destroying us.

Yet we must have more MBA’s than the rest of the world combined. Those same MBA’s didn’t forsee our current financial crisis, and it’s unlikely that they will get us out of what they got us into.

Those degress from fancy schools look nice on the wall, but in reality they don’t mean jack, and they don’t mean you have a brain.

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By bmeisen, December 8, 2008 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment
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Is Hedges arguing that the system has failed because the elites at the top have failed? Get admissions and curricula at Harvard et al sorted out, in line with Hedges criticism if you will, and then the system will resume proper functioning? Or is he arguing that the system of elite education in the US has failed, that tinkering at the top is useless, that we need a new paradigm? With all due respect, he could have been clearer. From my standpoint, living in a European democracy that provides virtually free higher education of acceptable quality to all willing secondary school graduates, the system of elite education in the US has clearly failed. No tinkering at the top will get this thing working again, if it ever worked in the first place. The system serves the interests of its clientele at the expense of the commonweal. An individual should by all means attend Harvard. At $40,000/year it’s a deal! They’re saluting the flag and doing their patriotic duty by not charging what in fact they could get. A democracy that understands the primacy of a well-educated electorate recognizes an elite system of higher education like the one that exists in the United States as its mortal enemy. Imagine living in a first-world country in which where you went to college is irrelevant, in which the topic doesn’t come up shortly after you have met someone for the first time. Countries like that exist and I live in one. It has had painful experience with the consequences of elite education.

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By nrobi, December 8, 2008 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges has cut to the core of the problem in America in this article.
We are now faced with not only the bankruptcy of the financial sector of our economy, but side by side with this enormous disaster, we are looking at the degradation of our educational system.
The educational systems now turn out perfect drones, the archetypal man, who does exactly what he/she is told, and who slaves for a meager income of “millions” of dollars that are at best vacuous replacements for the learning that was supposed to take place throughout their educational career.
Why then do the “elite” continue this charade? They do so, because to overturn this system would mean that their lives and livelihoods are worthless to the world at large and the vision of an elitist society is at best a pipe dream that would and will never happen.
Mr. Hedges though he nails the system to the wall, forgets one important person, who has pointed out the uselessness of this type of person. George Orwell, wrote most successfully about the future drone in his book, “1984.” 
We are now faced with the neo-conservatives being the power brokers of the “new age” of enlightenment, those who have attended the most prestigious schools,
are now making decisions that control the economies of the world, the lives of Americans are now effected
by the worst of the lot. Those vacuous, empty-headed and system-oriented men and women, for whom authority
is the highest form of aphrodisiac.
I shudder to think what the world will look like in 20 years if the people do not rise up and demand change, not the change of Barack Obama, but real and systemic change, the kind that brings talented and thinking people to the forefront of society.  Unless and until that happens, we are faced with the prospect of further degradation of our political and social lives. We will no longer have any say in matters that are paramount to our form of government,
Amerikka, will become more fascistic as time goes on.
The “Great Experiment,” started by a group of men, in
the later half of the 18th Century is now dead and we
will be the attendants at its funeral very soon.
There is nowhere left on the earth, that a government
can be democratic and sustain the life of the people.
The controlling elite of the world has seen to that very fact, they have sucked in all of the legitimate governments of the world, with the International Monetary Fund, and through their administration, have
succeeded in supplanting all of the “people’s” authority.
How do we turn this around? Only time will tell if there can be a defeat of the elitist system of governance, through true and non-violent counter-revolution.  Until then, be very afraid for your lives and the lives of your children, for no one of the elite cares one whit about your troubles and trials.

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By Anarcissie, December 8, 2008 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment

Stephen—I prefer “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  Needles to say, that is attributed to Yogi “I never said half the things I said” Berra.

Folktruther—most of my teachers felt that, in spite of my surroundings, I resisted education pretty thoroughly.  I did learn Latin, though.  That was probably the most valuable series of classes I ever went through, although Intensive French with Mlle. Jacob was considerably more entertaining. 

Où est-ce que vous êtes maintenant, Mlle. Jacob?

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By punkdudeus, December 8, 2008 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment
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Harvard and Yale both do not charge any tuition for students whose families make less than $40k a year.  Granted there are not that many people from poor areas getting into Harvard, but that’s an issue to be dealt with in the disgustingly shitty quality of our k-12 educational system.

If anything, college affordability is a bigger hurdle for those too poor to pay for college, yet who make just enough to not get financial aid—like me.  I’ll be strapped with $20k in debt next year when I graduate, and that’s cheap since I’m lucky enough to go to a public school. 

Your critiques of the college system are warranted, but I don’t think they’re new to this generation, nor are they new to education.  Institutionalization of anything stifles creativity and can force thought under the weight of numbers.  But today is certainly not nearly as stifling as the past—where repeating verbatim from texts was the height of intellectual activity, and questioning your professors was tantamount to treason.

Mario Savio called the University of California a machine where the students are the raw materials.  On top of a police car he said “When the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part…we must put our bodies upon the gears and the wheels and upon the levers and upon all the apparatus and grind that machine to a halt.”  We stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, but rest assured that students bubble up when they feel wronged, and while recently students’ energy hasn’t been as public as it was back in Mario’s day, it’s spread out amongst thousands of causes and activities which colors peoples’ existence and makes them feel happy. 

Today this is far from the case, where at Cal, you can be anything you want to be and there are resources at hand that can be down right intimidating.  I came to college expecting to be molded into a perfect lawyer of some sort and go down a road that would make me famous and successful.  But when presented with so many doors and obstacles, I’m more confused than ever and I’ve just been enjoying the ride.  And I’m not alone, scores don’t matter to everyone, but experience transcends us all.

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By Bernd Buerklin, December 8, 2008 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment
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Dear Mr. Hedges,
Thank you! Or, in the famous words of Meatloaf: “You took the words right out of my mouth”.
I will be a regular visitor of your column!
Love the last paragraph especially.

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By punkdudeus, December 8, 2008 at 1:46 pm Link to this comment
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Chris,

I think your description of college life in the US is too generalized.

I’m at Berkeley right now.  Granted its quiet now, cold, people are getting ready for finals.  But earlier this year, hundreds upon hundreds of Berkeley students went to Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and countless other congressional districts and local communities to organize, knock door to door, and spread their message.  It’s the reason Nevada went blue this year. 

I can’t speak for every college, but maybe you’ve overlooked a few things about the Me generation.  Yes, a lot of these elite schools have kids whose parents and teachers have, since their infancy, only encouraged resume building and getting a good job, but there are countless others who wish to give, and change and make things better.  At Berkeley, sometimes the gung-ho-ism on political activism can even be a bit too much.  And on your point that there are many who don’t see their education as a journey, but a means to an end…it’s warranted, but I think there’s an explanation for it.

We’re faced with an unprecedented amount of uncertainty.  Most people have no clue of what they want to do, and it freaks them out.  There’s a lot of people who should learn to chill out and relax a little..realize that some of our most stupid failures turn into remarkable successes.  But I don’t think that means we are void of hope or empty of the possibility for revolutionary thought.  This generation has a lot to offer and from what I feel (and granted the Bay Area is a bit of a bubble—interesting things happen here) I think we’re riding the crest of an interesting wave.  Especially after this last election,  there’s a feeling that we can do anything, that we will gain inevitable victory over what Hunter Thompson called the forces of Old and Evil, and that our energy will simply prevail—we don’t need to choose sides.

Finally, your claim that many of these elite institutions are turning away the poor overlooks significant financial aid that exists.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 8, 2008 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment

Shift, just remember that futurists are never around to witness their propositions being refuted!  (That’s why they go into playing the game in the first place.)  The only statement I respect from a futurist comes from Paul Saffo.  It is actually an observation about history:  “The future always arrives late and in unintended ways.”  I always prefer Saffo when he talks about his studies of history!

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By Folktruther, December 8, 2008 at 1:23 pm Link to this comment

Hell, Anarcissie, I’m bitterly disappointed in you.  I thought you were uneducated.  Unfortunately it is a minute minority of students at the Elite universities who rebell most systematically against it.  I was hoping you developed your worldview entirely from unschooled sources.

Now, I happen to be a high school dropout myself.  My big mistake was going to the U of Chicago, where they took students before they graduated highschool.  Fortunately I’ve always been kind of stupid so the stuff didn’t penetrate so good.  And of course, like everyone else, I’ve gotten dumber and dumber as I got older and older.

At the U of Chicago, where Obama taught, they are building a 200 million dollar Milton Friedman Center.  Despite vigorous protest from some of the faculty.  They continue to dun me for contributions, occasionally by phone.  But they have not yet built a Pinochet wing to it, despite my suggestions as to where they could stick it.

Ihe increase in fees to the Elite schools is part of the general increase in class inequality, and why class-based power structures decay.  The injustice, irrationality, and barbarism become so widespread that decent people who want to identify with authorized power can’t rationalize it anymore.  So a section of the Elite become declassed and lead the population against the power structure.  This has now reached as far as Hedges.  Not much further to go historically.

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By Shift, December 8, 2008 at 1:13 pm Link to this comment

Futurists tell us that intellectual generalists are the men and women most likely to succeed in a world of hyper change and chaos.  Since Ivy League Schools are teaching specialization then the privileged appear not to be smart enough to educate for life in the 21st Century. Hedges is probably right, they don’t know how to save us, or probably themselves either. 

Halting our consumption until they cry uncle seems to be our most promising path. Refusal to pay the taxes they are hoisting upon us is another useful path.  No Taxation Without Representation is an age old birthing tactic only this time it will be a rebirthing tactic.  Cut them loose and let them consume one another.

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By godistwaddle, December 8, 2008 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

Hey, now, I graduated from Dartmouth in 1969.  I think I got a pretty good education.

Of course, I’m the only Ivy Leaguer I know who spent his entire career teaching high school English in a public school system.  I found it rewarding to teach others to think.  (Sure wish I coulda cashed a $100,000,000 bonus on Wall Street.)

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By Allan Gurfinkle, December 8, 2008 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment
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I’ve been thinking about the extraordinary position of the US in the world. While it’s true that our industrial base has been decimated, and our balance of payments is way in the red, and our deficit unimaginable, it is nonetheless true that the US is STILL the envy of the world.  The WHOLE internet phenomenon came out of silicon valley in the US, lock, stock, and barrel.  We are the future.  The US has the best educational system in the world, the evidence is everywhere.  Hedges article is just nonsense.

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By fbeen, December 8, 2008 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment
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Your article is a gross generalization. What a student learns in college is directly dependent upon what they put into it and what one puts into their education is a product of individual personality and nurture. My daughter went to wellesley where she received a great liberal arts education. Her view of the world is not about “me” and appeasing the system for persoanal gain. She is strong and independent minded. My wife and I raised her to be that way. She knows that she is not a trust fund kid and has a strong sense of right and wrong and she has demonstrated the will to stand her ground.

You seem to be going down the path of the Republicans’ attitude of anti-intellectualism. I want elites running this country regardless of where they obtained their education. To paraphrase Bill Maher, you can’t govern stupid and the stupid should not be allowed to govern. [Note: Last 8 years]

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By SteveM, December 8, 2008 at 11:45 am Link to this comment
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I think people mis-understand the purpose of schooling in the US, elite or not. It is not about knowledge, education, or thinking; it is about socialization, making people useful members of society.  Useful as being defined by the people who determine what values the US will have. As most of these are wealthy, conservative, haves as opposed to struggling, more liberal have nots, the outcome is pretty much determined.

You want change, then you need to change the mission from making more of the same to educating, teaching critical thinking skills, encouraging change, scientific analysis. But be prepared - the conservatives have spent years and trillions of dollars creating this system. They will not go quietly.

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By Anarcissie, December 8, 2008 at 11:21 am Link to this comment

PT—what kind of college was that?  I guest-lectured at a less-than-prestigious college at the invitation of a friend who had a summer professorial job (don’t ask) and found the students extraordinarily passive.  They wanted to be told what to write down and only that.  In the more prestigious institutions one is expected to participate much more vigorously in one’s own indoctrination.

It is certainly true that the sort of study that is carried forward from the Middle Ages and the ancient world is more rigorous and useful than much that has been added later.  I suppose that is because in those epochs schools and scholarship were generally peripheral to ruling-class interests and were carried on more for their own sake, or for the greater glory of the deity of one’s choice.  Or rather one’s ruler’s choice.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 8, 2008 at 11:17 am Link to this comment

This time I have no fundamental disagreement with Hedges.  My only question is what took him so long to use the bully pulpit of his column to say these things.  My very first blog post (June 5, 2006), had the title “Education with More Permanence.”

http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-Mff23hgidqmHGqbcv.lfskakEtS6qLVHUEMFUG4-?cq=1&p=1

It was based on an appeal to physics as a metaphor:

I had become increasingly aware of the fact that higher education was getting more and more specialized while the “half-life” of the content of that education was getting shorter and shorter (often by the month, if not by the day).  I felt that it was necessary to seek out educational content that would have more permanence to it.  This was the original intention behind the idea of a “liberal education;”  but this is a concept that seems to have gone out of fashion.

I included a link to a PowerPoint presentation I had given on January 25, 2006. I gave the talk several times, and it always fell on deaf ears.  Needless to say, I have no hopes that “liberal education” (or its cousin, “critical thinking”) will fare any better under the new Administration than it did under the old one!

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By marcus medler, December 8, 2008 at 11:13 am Link to this comment
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This is complete nonsense! We all know the current economic and financial mess is due to the (ivy/top schools ) elites penchant for grammar and french opera. I saw some reading Milton, Aristotle and even Dante in HIS language. If only they were more open to Burger King and shopping. These ‘younguns’  need to spend afternoons doing their nails while listening to Cyndi Lauper and watching reality Television, not attending lectures and reading books. Oh my god, books! Shucks, they waste all that time with community activities and cello practice. Then hours working or should I say wasting time, doing experiments in the bio chemistry and physics lab. They need more sleep! Mao understood, those mathematicians need a good two years hoeing turnips, not a weekend in Maine hiking. It is so unfortunate, the poor Billionaire bosses get such narrowly trained lackeys and toadies, best we hang the teachers!

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By P. T., December 8, 2008 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

From my college experience, it was not so much about thinking as it was about memorizing.  You memorize the stuff for the test.  Then you can forget about it later.

The one class I had that was about thinking clearly was called Traditional Logic.

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By Anarcissie, December 8, 2008 at 10:21 am Link to this comment

I think C.H. is mistaken if he thinks that empty people go to prestigious universities and are filled up there with ignorance, prejudice and elitist vacuities.  Rather, those who are selected for prestigious universities are precisely those who are part of, or are ready to become, part of the elites, because of their mindset, worldview, interests and intentions, and they are very conscious of it.  Yes, they are cautious and conservative and tend to conform to the established order, but that is for a very good reason: in the established order, they’ve got it made.  The established order may be falling off a cliff, but as it falls, they’re going to have the catbird seat.

I know whereof I speak.  I put up with three years of a very elite prep school and two of one of the prestigious universities in the U.S.  I got out, but it took quite a while to recover from the bad effects, not of the instruction, but the ambience, the unchallenged belief that one was among those selected for “Leadership” and other Higher Things.

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By GW=MCHammered, December 8, 2008 at 10:16 am Link to this comment
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re: leftyrite, December 8 at 7:25 am
“the importance of heart, empathy, humility, and of giving back to the people from whom one comes.”

Absolutely. The platitude ‘Attitude is everything’ has always been wrong ... the time-tested truth is ‘Character above all things.’

And “They will feed the beast until it dies. Don’t expect them to save us. They don’t know how.” by Chris Hedges is exactly why I hold some hope in Obama, as he supports the brave and defiant workers in Chicago’s sit-in and his announcement of Bush critic, Army Gen. Eric Shinseki as his secretary of Veterans Affairs.

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By purplewolf, December 8, 2008 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

What a novel concept. Thinking for oneself, rather than having all your thoughts forged into your brain by someone else. Can we say SHEEPLE?

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By Joe Franks, December 8, 2008 at 9:41 am Link to this comment

Absolutely brilliant Chris, just brilliant.  This is yet another symptom of a horribly ill society: that its best and brightest are so dull, such minutely specialized cogs.

Josephus
http://branddenotes.blogspot.com

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By Dean, December 8, 2008 at 9:08 am Link to this comment
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If we’re going to start attacking huge unwitting groups, let’s throw in the toddlers as well. You know how they are - all snotty-nosed and curiously complicit. Have you SEEN them in the parks? Running and skipping and monkey-barring like they own the world. Oh, they make me SO angry. You can just see the selfish eagerness in their eyes. We need more voices like yours, Chris. I’m so on your side. Let’s CRUSH those who dare attempt to achieve ANYTHING. Stupid dreamers.

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By Mayponce, December 8, 2008 at 8:53 am Link to this comment

It is the height of irony when Hedges-a man who believes in an all powerful man who lives in sky-accuses anyone of having “a disdain honest intellectual inquiry”.

Mr. Pot, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Kettle…

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By leftyrite, December 8, 2008 at 8:25 am Link to this comment

My hometown is suffering today from a terrible lack of leadership, partially due to the fact that few of our adults, even teachers like myself, stressed the importance of heart, empathy, humility, and of giving back to the people from whom one comes.
We all thrilled at the latest Ivy league acceptance among our kids, seldom mentioning the notion of returning home to serve the people who give bright students the platform on which they stand. The idea was to be better than us, and, by and large, they accepted our premise as well.
Now, we see just the beginning of the endgame of that businesslike and cold outlook, and that’s only because we have time to think. If Pakistan falls, and India, Israel, Iran jump in, we won’t have that luxury. The only thing that I know for sure is that the people with the most “heart,” as well as the best organization, will prevail. And heart, courage born of love, isn’t always in the service of virtue. It works in concert with other prevailing notions of ethics and morality. Are we morally ready to defend what’s left of our Republic?  Reach inside yourself; have a heart for your people.

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By Conservative Yankee, December 8, 2008 at 8:16 am Link to this comment
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Hedges finally writes something with which I can agree.

Here at the University of Maine we had “tables” in front of the Student Union (in 2003) with people from various corporate entities telling us how we could “Make money in Iraq” and we’re talking LOTS of money (called loot in some places)

The “critical thinking” thing is correct too. The “Standardized tests” may gauge what a student knows in an isolated subject area, but it does not measure what that student learned on the university campus, or to a large degree, if the student has learned to “think independently” or disect a problem on their own.

My advise?  Take the 100K + you will spend on a college education and by forclosed realestate… in 10 years the real estate will be worth something.. The college degree… maybe not.

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By Benjamin Tasker, December 8, 2008 at 8:08 am Link to this comment

A fascinating article - I look forward to these every Monday, Mr. Hedges. I’ve had some great professors at my state school who encouraged us to really ask questions and I’m suddenly much more thankful to have had them in my life.

I’m also pleased to find out that one of my favorite authors is rooted in my home State of Maine. :-D

It’s the simple things…

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By ZachP, December 8, 2008 at 7:49 am Link to this comment

Gee, I suddenly feel blessed to be a high school dropout who is graduating college with a BA in International Studies and a decent GPA and care more about reading things like this than my grades.

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By diogeron, December 8, 2008 at 7:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hedges’ post is a much better commentary than I’ve seen on most other sites on this issue about the pitfalls of being led by “the best and the brightest.” Having said that, after eight years of political leadership by “the mediocre and the dimmest”, I’m willing to take that chance that Obama’s team can lift us out of the morass in which we find ourselves given the incompetence of the Bush administration.

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By John K, December 8, 2008 at 7:08 am Link to this comment

You have hit the nail on the head here. 

This syndrome plagues our corporations as well.  I guarantee you there were a people at GM (most likely engineers) screaming they were headed for a cliff. But these American systems are set up to treat any sort of introspection as some sort of weakness.

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By William, December 8, 2008 at 6:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Chris,

I’m a product of a private high school, private college and now attend a graduate school at Harvard.

Edit that. I’m a product of my parents teaching me that I should never stop questioning, learning and trying to improve my understanding.

And while I agree with you about the kind of education provided at the higher institutions you mentioned (really, I can only speak to this one), especially when paralleled with my own liberal arts private college ... They have one thing that my school, regardless of how good it is, did not:

They taught me, that no matter how famous someone is, that they should be approachable. That I should be able to talk to someone like David Gergen or Robert Putnam - that my input matters. This is done through a complete immersion into the world of money, power, prestige, and other terms you can throw out there.

Was I less without this immersion factor? No. But I feel that it was central to the completion of my education. Education, without application, is just knowledge in a brain, and while it is great to know something for yourself, it is better to spread it.

I agree that these universities can do a better job - but don’t overlook the sheer amount of opportunity they DO provide, even if it is extremely partisan. (Look at the KSG IOP, their “political realm”, where students are either Democrats, or not Democrats.)

Solid article, though. I always enjoy them.

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By fell, December 8, 2008 at 6:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i have been a fan of Chris since his book, War: a force that gives us meaning….reading his columns though shows me a side of him that is as wasteful as what he disdains. he is all critique and no solutions. All the way to getting his child a tudor…I like him are in the same boat…but rather I don’t even get my child a driver’s license…let him figure it out…if it’s important he’ll do it…if not…one less driver and he will direct his energies to “tabling” what is important to him…

At least Chris does retain the humbleness and confessional attitude that is the way for any change…now if we could only get him to use his intellect for change rather than a bill o’reilly type of rant…

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