As an American now studying at Oxford, I agree with her characterization of this particular way in which Oxford's educational philosophy seems to differ from most American universities. Oxford’s values certainly are different. (Though using Oxford to illustrate differences among universities is a bit like using a platypus to demonstrate differences among animals; Burton’s points might well be made about Oxford and Cambridge in contrast to the rest of the universities in the U.K.) The small size of the tutorial system means that a student never has to learn how to interact in a seminar environment if she chooses not to. And it’s true that Oxford’s constituent colleges and the dons who teach in them are, on average, more concerned with students’ marks than professors at many selective American institutions. American professors often seem just as content to have students who get average grades but also captain the football team, direct a play, or edit a literary magazine.
This difference has to do with the structure of testing in Oxbridge in contrast to Ivy League. At Oxford and Cambridge, professors are responsible for preparing you for exams that external examiners assess. In the Ivy League—as at most American schools—the professor who teaches you is the same one who grades you. Their respective incentives are different.
That said, I wonder whether Oxford's approach is more purely intellectual than, say, Harvard's. That is what Burton contends—that "the implicit message behind the rhetoric of leadership in the American college admissions is that intellectualism alone is not enough, even for an academic institution. Simply learning for learning's sake is not enough."
But she does not allow that the kind of classroom dynamic that Harward describes might well develop and instantiate some important intellectual virtues: the ability to talk to others, to draw out their ideas, to build an intellectually serious conversation. Burton conceives of these as skills that might well complement the life of the mind, but are not constitutive of it.
In this respect, I believe she is wrong, and misreads the intention of this aspect of American pedagogy—which, I agree, is very American. A future intellectual or professor who cannot build a good discussion on their ideas with colleagues or students, and either does not know how to draw out quieter members of a class or thinks that doing so is unimportant, may find great professional recognition. But achieving scholarly renown is not the sole or sufficient measure of a great mind, and they will lack certain eminently worthwhile intellectual characteristics—such as a sense of fellowship and generosity in spontaneous discourse—that Socrates and Erasmus, among many others, found vital to their pursuit of knowledge. Are these a form of leadership? Insofar as they are, I think it makes perfect sense for any university, taken solely as a house of learning, to want to impart them to its students.