Jews to the right of me, Jews to the left of me
New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks might tick me off as an Op-Ed guy, but he writes a provocative book review. In the November 6 NYT Book Review, he looks at Jerome Karabel's scholarly work, The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Karabel's book focuses on a quiet revolution which occurred on Ivy League campuses over the course of the 20th century. In the early 1900s, non-White Anglo-Saxon Protestants didn't bother to apply to these schools; yet "Jews, for reasons that are not clear, never got the message. They applied to Harvard, Yale and Princeton even though they weren't really wanted. And because many were so academically qualified, they increasingly got in." Yes, "Chosen" is code for my fellow lantsmen. Over the first half of the 20th century, Jewish numbers rose in the Ivy Leagues, much to the chagrin of certain alumni. Here, Brooks quotes a passage in which Karabel cites a "Harvard alum [who] wrote to the university's president in 1925" -- and, oh boy, is this citation precious: "Naturally, after 25 years, one expects to find many changes, but to find that one's University had become so Hebrewized was a fearful shock. There were Jews to the right of me, Jews to the left of me, in fact they were so obviously everywhere that instead of leaving the Yard with pleasant memories of the past I left with a feeling of utter disgust of the present and grave doubts about the future of my Alma Mater." Ah, yes: we all know how Harvard tanked in the latter half of the 20th century. What struck me most about this quote: the naked, unvarnished antisemitism. One of Adolph Hitler's many evils was to make this sort of antisemitism uncool. It's still out there, naturally, but folks have to hide their opinions and frame them in code. If you're not paying attention, it will fly right over your head. . . . Which brings me back to Brooks's review. By the end, I had the sense that Brooks longed for days gone by. This is Brooks, not Karabel: "Those old WASP bluebloods may have been narrow and prejudiced, but they did at least have a formula for building character. Today we somehow sense that character matters, and it still vaguely plays a role in admissions decisions, but our thoughts about character--what it is and how to build it-- are amorphous and ineffectual." Guess it all depends what you want from your universities. Personally, I'd like to see them concentrate on education and advancement of knowledge. But then, I'm part of the problem. Brooks again: "The main beneficiaries of the new admissions policies, Karabel notes, were 'the children of families that, while lacking the wealth of the old upper class, were richly endowed with cultural capital.' In 1956, the sons of business executives outnumbered the sons of professors by four to one at Harvard. By 1976, there were nearly as many freshman from academic households as from business households. "All of which suggests that human nature hasn't changed. People who possess privileges try to protect their own . . ." Really? Are these children from academic households the recipients of favoritism, as Brooks clearly implies, or are they better educated and more scholastically oriented than children from business households? Brooks himself notes that SAT scores of incoming freshmen have "shot up." Which is the more plausible hypothesis? You know something? Brooks ticks me off as a book reviewer, too.
***My son's current favorite expression: ass hat, vying closely with assclown. Thanks, JurassicPork! D. Technorati tags: David Brooks, Jews, Ivy League