At elite universities, students from vastly different backgrounds are thrown together. On the surface, it looks like the world is their pearl-studded oyster. In reality, the experience can be bruising. Those of us who are taught to value critical thinking can get schooled out of a capacity for empathy. In conversations with academics, I am often struck by how little generosity of spirit informs the critique of their students.
It’s a chestnut of academe that students get in the way of the faculty’s “real” work, and an even more tired move to complain about the questionable work ethic and values of students. Deresiewicz’s essay, beautifully written and critically smart, flattens the variety of his students’ lives into the kinds of generalizations we try to nudge first-year composition students out of making.
Someone should put these two on a panel together.