The Snobbiness Of College Students
As Senator Santorum wins another state, most of us on the left dream about the remote possibility that we may be able make fun of him for eight more months. Some, however, feel the need to analyze his statements (that’s what we do on the left — we overanalyze) for a grain of truth. Andrew Delbanco did so yesterday regarding Santorum’s comment that President Obama was a snob for wanting people to go to college.
Yet once the beneficiaries arrive at college, what do they learn about themselves? It’s a good bet that the dean or president will greet them with congratulations for being the best and brightest ever to walk through the gates. A few years ago, the critic and essayist William Deresiewicz, who went to Columbia and taught at Yale, wrote that his Ivy education taught him to believe that those who didn’t attend “an Ivy League or equivalent school” were “beneath” him. The writer Walter Kirn recalled that at Princeton he learned to “rise to almost every challenge … except, perhaps, the challenge of real self-knowledge.” In my experience, a great many students at top colleges are wonderful young people whose idealism matches their intelligence. Yet the charge that elite college culture encourages smugness and self-satisfaction contains, like Mr. Santorum’s outburst, a germ of truth.
I would argue that Delbanco’s analysis contains a germ of truth. I won’t deny that my academic colleagues may think a bit too highly of themselves (not me of course!!). But while our students come to us with a sense of entitlement, they don’t get it at college. Whether it is insisting that we give them high grades because they “need” them or condescendingly praising us for “good pedagogy today,” students say things that their predecessors a generation ago wouldn’t dream of uttering. Maybe our job should be to knock this sense of entitlement out of them but the fact that we haven’t done so does not seem sufficient grounds for criticism.