Thank you, thank you, Doctor Cleveland*:
There is nothing a snobbish Ivy Leaguer likes better than putting down the Ivy League. It's an easy way to signal that you are above your own Ivy League school and the privilege it confers -- all a big humbug that your superior perspective sees right through -- while holding on to every last scrap of that privilege. It allows you to position yourself as not only 1. better than people who didn't get into Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, but 2. the benevolent champion of those little people who didn't get in and also 3. better than everyone else who did get into your school and who, unlike you, need to take the place seriously.This is more or less what I was thinking, but unable to articulate, when I read that Deresiewicz piece, but also Reihan's takedown of Stuyvesant. These essays are always a way to announce that you made whichever cut, while at the same time... just read Doctor Cleveland. It's a little different when it refers to a high school - there, the provincial nature of the concern can outweigh the rest, and most of the readership didn't even have the chance to not get into the school in question, so there's maybe more tuning-out than resentment - but the principle's the same. Whenever these debates arise, what happens is, the only people qualified to speak are those who went to whichever school (which even Doctor Cleveland can't avoid, but somehow this is much easier to take from a pseudonym, esp. one making the better argument), alums of which are already having their voices heard plenty. These articles inspire immense, intense interest from fellow alums, but not a whole heck of a lot from everyone else. Not because "everyone else" is too busy drooling in the vague direction of a Kardashian show to read The New Republic, but because reading about the fate of schools you didn't attend is never that interesting.
Which is... fine. If the graduates of schools both fancy and schmancy want to have an insular conversation about euphemistic-whichever-location, that's perfectly reasonable. But maybe classify these stories as "lifestyle" and not "education." It's not that they never delve into big-picture questions about the educational system, or that there's never any reason to look at how it goes in the top 0.0001% of any hierarchy. It's just that the bulk of this Very Important Conversation is of the small-potato variety.
*This bit was spot-on as well: "Public colleges, and the students at public colleges, are merely rhetorically convenient symbols for him."