by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes "in defense of elites":

There is a reason why successful kids and tough schools get those jobs--because the grade/school attendance ratio is one of the best proxies for long term success on the merits.  The kid interviewing from Duke or Harvard or Stanford law school usually has this profile--(1) studied hard in high school and got very good grades, (2) followed by studying hard and getting average or better grades at a top tier college or getting very high grades at a lower ranked college, (3) followed by studying hard and getting good grades at a top tier law school or great grades at a lower ranked law school.  On top of that, they have to be personable, presentable, and have a weird type of work ethic that will keep someone working all night long to find the magic document in 20 boxes of emails between accountants. The work is not for the faint of heart.  It is mentally and physically demanding, and there is almost no moral satisfaction that comes from making sure that Company A, not Company B, gets that big pot of money. 

Furthermore, the analytical skills and creativity that go into making those types of legal arguments are not widely shared... Those creative and analytical skills are more commonly found (not exclusively found) at elite schools because those schools take a bunch of those little high school geeks who actually read all of Moby Dick (including the whaling chapters) and put them in a fishbowl for 4 years in college and then reshuffled them in different schools for three more years in law school, picking up stars from lower tier schools and shedding knucklehead legacy kids who were just coasting in college. 

There is a tremendous amount of learning, sharpening, and growth that happens between classes when those geeks are eating pizza.  Some of the key lessons and skills I learned when at my Ivy League College and Top Tier Law School were from other students who had picked up incredible skills before even getting there.  And I added what I knew to others.  I would like to say that you can get the same level of education out of every school if you are a self-starter, but you can only push yourself so much.  Sometimes you need others to push you as well.  Those elite schools create an environment where you get pushed a lot harder by your peers. 

Yes, I think that is all accurate. And it helps capture the thought behind the question I recently asked conservative critics of the current meritocracy: If you think it's flawed now, what better system do you suggest for replacing it? There's this weird dynamic in the United States where some conservatives will praise the hard working kid who gets good grades in high school, completes all their homework, avoids behavioral and legal trouble, plays varsity sports, takes a leadership role in student government, and studies hard for his SATs... until he or she attends Harvard, at which point they're put in the coastal elite box, especially if they wind up in politics, media, or academia. 

There are nevertheless solid critiques of a ruling class so heavily determined by a relatively small number of elite educational institutions.

More about that in another post.

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