I know many people who went to Ivy League schools (this tells you something about my socio-economic background, though perhaps not as much as you might think). I know perhaps two dozen such people personally, many more peripherally, and six or seven quite well. By “quite well” I mean people that I share drinks with, exchange letters with, commiserate with, celebrate births with: close friends.
One woman I know (she will have to stand in for the others, for the sake of argument), is pretty typical. She is, of course, a shiningly unique human being, as are we all, and so in painting her “typicality,” I must necessarily sell her short. But insofar as she is an Ivy League graduate, as far as I can tell she is rather typical of her peers.
Let’s call her Agatha. Agatha is very smart, probably in the top 2% in terms of raw IQ. She’s not a once-in-a-generation genius, but she’s very, very smart. She also works very hard. She did not get into her top-flight school thanks to nepotism, money or shamelessness. (She’s white, middle-class, and from an intact traditional family: that is to say she is neither the beneficiary of elite privilege, nor is she the beneficiary of affirmative action, nor pity.)
Agatha got excellent grades at a very top-notch school (think Cambridge, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, etc). She then went on to get an advanced social science degree from one of the top graduate schools in her field. She’s a cheerful person, bright, friendly, with a wry sense of humor. She’s generous with what she has, loyal to her family, athletic, and hard-working.
In short, Agatha is a good person, as far as I am qualified to judge such a thing. (I’m not qualified, really… but I have to call them as I see them. And Agatha is “one of the good ones,” as I see it.)
Agatha is completely ignorant of Latin. She is completely ignorant of Ancient Greek. Despite living an entire year overseas on the Continent, she has only the most rudimentary knowledge of Italian (and no French, no Spanish, no German, etc… nor does she know any non-European languages; no Chinese, no Japanese, no Arabic or Swahili or what-have-you). When I say “rudimentary,” I mean “where is the bathroom?” level. She can’t express a single complex idea in any language other than English.
She’s got serviceable, basic, high-school algebra, and she can handle easy geometry. But she doesn’t know calculus, or statistics, nor any higher math. I’m sure if you gave her a few days to figure out a trigonometry problem she could muddle through thanks to some high school familiarity and her natural intelligence, but one couldn’t really say she “knows” trigonometry.
Her knowledge of European history is murky and spotty at best. Beyond the year 1066, and perhaps 1215, I doubt she could give a single significant date in European history… maybe unless you count 1789. If you rattled off a few famous names like, say, Mark Antony, Charlemagne, and Martin Luther, she could probably give you an elementary, one-sentence guess of the significance of these figures. It would be along the lines of “Mark Antony fought Caesar and married Cleopatra. Charlemagne was King of France. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Church and started the Reformation.” I doubt she could say anything more nuanced or detailed than that, and even now that I write it, I start to wonder if she could even go as far as that. It might be closer to, “Um… Mark Antony was Roman and um… Cleopatra, or something. Charlemagne was like… a king or something. And Martin Luther was a Lutheran.”
She’s never been in combat, and never fired a gun (as an unrepentant sexist, I don’t have a problem with this, but this statement also holds true for my male friends in the same position… Agatha, though a real person, is also a stand-in for many other people I have known, including men.) She’s never seen someone die.
I’m pretty sure she has been assigned the Iliad in class at some point, but I’m also pretty sure she mostly skimmed it. She’s read maybe 4 or 5 of Shakespeare’s most famous plays… again she probably has more seen them than read them. Why read it when Kenneth Branagh made a perfectly serviceable film adaptation? She’s not read Milton at all, nor Pope nor Dryden. Nor Hawthorne, Melville, nor Faulkner.
She’s not a scientist. She has only minimal, intro-level lab experience. She’s never done a serious biological, or geological, or astronomical survey of anything.
She’s never been pregnant nor borne a child, is not married. She knows the Lord’s Prayer, but I’m pretty sure she has only the faintest idea of what the meaning of the Trinity is. She’s certainly never read the Bible, though I know she feels confident that she “knows what’s in there.”
She can’t draw or paint or write poetry. She doesn’t play any musical instruments… not even 5 or 6 chords on a piano or guitar. Nothing. She can recite nothing beautiful to you (“South Park” quotes notwithstanding.) She can bake… kind of. She has no gardening or farming skills. No handiwork skills. No sewing or carving or embroidery or anything of the sort. She is, I admit, devastatingly witty on Facebook.
Again, she’s not only completely ignorant of ancient languages (no Hebrew, no Greek, and again, no Latin… no FRENCH at all), but she’s largely ignorant of literature in general. And I don’t mean to pick on this woman. She’s very smart. She works very hard. And half of the stuff I accuse her of here, I am guilty of too. I don’t know a lick of Greek! (“Hubris, hamartia, arete, ate, zeus, apollo, athena…” there I’m done! I’m exaggerating, of course, but not by far!) I’m no expert on Luther, nor on Charlemagne, nor can I do differential equations on the back of an envelope. I’m not calling her stupid. She’s very smart!
This woman is a shining example… one of the crown jewels of the American educational system. She’s smart, hard-working, and went to all the right schools. She got top grades and her professors loved her. And she knows… close to nothing.
What does she really know? She knows all the proper opinions to have. She knows exactly what to think in every situation. Her ideas, I’m sure it goes without saying, are strictly PC. But what’s more, she feels absolutely no need to corroborate her ideas with actual investigation.
As recently as a hundred years ago, it’s hard to imagine a graduate of Yale with literally zero Latin, zero advanced math, zero scientific experience, and who had not even read the Bible, let alone Shakespeare.
But now, such a person is not only possible, she’s practically the only kind of Yale (or Harvard, or Stanford) graduate imaginable. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that if she had read the Bible, if she had learned Greek, if she did have a deep understanding of, say, medieval Germany, it might have worked in her disfavor. Obviously, a Classics major still presumably studies a little Greek and Latin. Obviously a math major must know calculus.
But in the social sciences? Pfft. Those aren’t even considered categories of knowledge! Those are burdens! Learning ancient Greek is not only a waste of time, it gets in the way of proper thinking.
And yet… Agatha has already participated in making laws that other people in this society must now obey. She designs studies and writes reports that get reported in the New York Times as established fact. Anyone who disputes or resists is considered to be an ignoramus bucking against the wisdom of the “educated.”
In case it’s not clear, I’m not here claiming that every man (and how much less, every woman) should know Latin, or calculus, or even French, or even history. But it strikes me as a mind-exploding absurdity that the most highly “educated” are complete ciphers… almost perfectly knowledge-less beings. Despite her kind heart, her bright mind, and her excellent work-ethic, Agatha has managed to become almost completely ignorant of life, and is therefore exactly suited to be the kind of person who determines the rules that the rest of society must live by.
And the further tragedy: a bright mind, a young woman. Not only is she not marrying and having children under a moral regime, but the “career and fulfillment” she is seeking by giving those things up is empty, corrupt, meaningless, and dull.