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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

why educate the elite? a lesson from yale and george bush while hanging out in Spain

I have been doing press conferences lately on behalf of our new XTOL Europe which is offering our learn by doing courses. You get some strange questions whenever you talk to the press, but today I got one that was not only odd but set me thinking about something new. In Spain, which is where I am as I write this, there has been a lot written about me, so reporters come armed with what they read about me in some other press coverage. The question that set me off was this:

“You say school was designed to educate the elite classes and you don’t care about them. Why don’t you care about educating the elite?”

Gee, I had never thought about it that way. I have been  saying that Harvard, Yale etc can get away with letting people major in History, English, and Classics etc., because historically their graduates were the sons of the rich and ruling class and no one expected them to get a job. While that is no exactly true today, believe me Yale and Harvard haven’t changed that much. But truly I have never been concerned with changing those institutions. I loved my time at Yale, and kids don’t exactly come away ruined from spending four years there. My complaint has always been that all the other universities have copied this elitist model. In fact, in Spain, one hears constantly about the value of studying literature in a society with massive unemployment amongst youth precisely because so many students have studied relatively useless subjects.

I don’t worry about the education of the elite classes. I worry about average Joe who can’t think clearly and whose skills have not been enhanced by school.

But this question made me think about the elites. What should we be teaching them? Harvard and Yale keep graduating future presidents, supreme court justices, governors, and business leaders. What should we be teaching them?

Amazingly, literature etc still doesn’t come to mind. Yes, of course, we would like our President to not say “who” when Dickens is mentioned and not say “what” when the Peloponnesian War is mentioned.

But what should we be teaching them? Oddly, George Bush, famous Yale graduate, come to mind (pick either one here.) Was our problem with these men that they weren’t well versed in the classics? 

Here is a thought. Neither seems to know much about average Joe’s concerns, what it was like to work for a living, what the average schoolroom is like, or for that matter how the economy works or how to govern.

A little more knowledge of history wouldn’t have hurt either, I have to admit. But what history should they have known? I would have hoped they might have known more about Arab society or the history of Iraq or Afghanistan. Why do I feel confident that they did not study the MIddle East at Yale?

I used to be on US Army’s subcommittee on distance education. As part of that I had the occasion to attend the Army War College for a couple of days. I was with a group of majors and colonels who were learning about the history of Islamic revolution. I doubt that the Bushes took that course at Yale either.

So, yes I am worried about the education of elites. I think they should learn how the other half lives (maybe by living with them).  I think they should learn how to govern (maybe by running a smaller country first -- I am joking -- sort of). I think they should learn real economics and how to diagnose a problem and how to say things that are more than sound bites. They should learn how to lie less, and how to manage on less.

I realize this will never happen, but I think it's fun to think about. The French by the way, do have a school for training future political leaders, but I get the idea it hasn’t worked out that well.

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