The Stations of the Meritocrat Cross
I thought that this Atlantic piece by a current Yale undergraduate (likely paywalled, but I dunno) was pretty good. While it’s a little overwritten, the piece did a really good job of capturing the addiction to grinding and status culture that consumes our young people. At Yale, and at many other exclusive institutions, students who just spent years fretting their way through high school, overachieving wildly
in a futile bid to win the love of their parents to secure a shot at an exclusive college, then turn around and compete for absurdly competitive campus clubs. These clubs reject students left and right, even when it doesn’t seem like they have any reason to reject anybody at all. As writer Rachel Shin points out, this replication of scarcity and a status hierarchy is not incidental, and not the fault of the colleges themselves.
“There’s some kind of frenetic quality about it that goes way beyond rational competition, that is insanely over the top,” says David F. Labaree, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, who has observed a competitive mania overtake higher education in recent years. “Anything that students come in second in, they think is a sign that they’re doomed: Oh my God. Maybe I’m a loser here.” …
As I reported this story, one thing became clear: This culture is not wholly imposed by Yale as an institution. The faculty members I interviewed were perplexed that clubs are so competitive. Pericles Lewis, the dean of the college, told me he’d talked with club leaders about making the application process more humane, and they’d declined to implement significant changes. The students are doing this to themselves.
Now, let me first say… lol. Genuine, deep lol. You have to laugh at these kids, a little bit, and it’s OK to do so because they’re going to be the masters of the universe in a decade. This is a self-inflicted problem among a cohort of people who have overwhelmingly strong odds to enjoy lives of fiscal stability and personal satisfaction. I can’t help but laugh a little at a group of future doctors and lawyers and nonprofit muckety mucks who only feel safe when they’re manically pursuing the next laurel. But I do, also, have sympathy. I’ve had many years of experience working with both young people scrambling to get into the most exclusive college they could and with college students who still seemed bruised by the process. I found it impossible not to feel for them, given our culture and the pressures it engenders. And I think the NYT story tells us a lot about American meritocracy and its crisis of faith.