The Next Bubble

A mathematics lecture, apparently about linear...

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Being the parent of a student at the nation’s oldest public school awards the Parent Imperfect with access to “The Village,” an e-mail list-serv for the school community. The PI can’t stop spouting about all the strange things the list reveals about this community, but that doesn’t keep him from reading every announcement of a new item in the school store. That he spends time doing this (and writing in blogs) while ignoring other things screaming at him from the “To Do” list is worthy of reflection.

When the list hasn’t been debating the quality of teaching at the school or serving as a parent textbook exchange, it has been reflecting on the decreasing “value” of a college education. This conversation strikes a chord because some students are at the school because their parents (and themselves, in some cases) feel that enduring the barbs of life at the school puts them on a path to an elite higher education with all of the choices that implies (it’s “free,” to boot). For some percentage of families at the school, it has served for centuries as a door to social mobility or a means of retaining an elite position in Boston’s very class (and race) conscious society. A teacher at the school who fashions himself “The Village Idiot” has shared a couple of provocative articles that suggest that elite higher education is no longer the near guarantee of future “success” that it once was. Some say it’s not even very good education.

This is where the PI launches into the big, “Gone are the days…,” speech about the impact of the long-term decline of the U.S. He’s convinced that many of Vince’s generation will have a difficult time reaching the economic position of their parents (not a really high bar for Vince). The old sheepskin probably still “pays off,” but only because the country’s decline impacts, even more directly, people who don’t go to college. If the boy ends up going to an exclusive private school, it won’t be because the PI has been consciously moving things in that direction from behind the scenes. So…if it wasn’t part of a strategy to help Vince get into a “good” university and then get a “good” job, then why did the PI help V. move toward an institution that doesn’t particularly play to his strengths? Don’t ask, don’t tell.

When asked why he is at the nation’s oldest public school, Vince always says, “Because my friends go there.” Maybe, but when he entered the school, he knew about 1% of his entering class and less of the rest of the school. He likes the school’s Darwinian social environment, and seems to enjoy some of his classes. Facebook allows at least the semblance of a sense of community. But he has also come to sense that going to this school carries with it a certain status with some people in the community, and he likes that status. His demeanor is very different when he uses the name of a classical (not to say, “dead’) language to respond to questions about where he goes to school than when he used to say, “the Hernández.”  This can be, of course, the beginning of the formation of an elite sensibility, and the PI would never want that, would he?

That brings us back to the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” question. We’ll let the PI off with that for now, but he’s not heard the end of this.


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