Monday, November 14, 2005

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.
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My son's current favorite expression: ass hat, vying closely with assclown. Thanks, JurassicPork! D. Technorati tags: , ,

6 Comments:

Blogger jason evans said...

This post strikes me as a less nefarious version of a memo I learned about on some history documentary. Apparently we (the US) was speaking to whether widespread immigration of Jews should be permitted during WWII. Now, I'm doing this from memory, but the line in the memo was something like no, because opening the door might have a "dangerous likelihood of success." Such venon cloaked in euphemism. Ugly. Very ugly.

Yet, it all boils down to the clash of cultures, doesn't it? Any two cultures rubbing up against each other can spawn evil.

11/15/2005 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger Moi said...

What cracks me up about this is that my daughter is presently attending Yale. We're not rich. We're not Jewish. We're lower middle class working stiffs who happen to have a brilliant daughter who aced the SAT's and Yale, Harvard AND Stamford all accepted (while the local University of Michigan didn't--go figure). We're working our collective butts off to make sure she can afford to stay in and make the best of this opportunity.

And, from what she's told me, the majority of the freshman class aren't much different, economically, than we are. Of her five roommates, all of them are from middle-class working stiff families.

Interesting, huh?

11/15/2005 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Jason: yes, indeed. No one is immune.

Moi: that's encouraging to hear. That's how it was at Berkeley, and that's how I would expect it to be at any school that bases its admissions on merit rather than connections. What is she studying?

11/15/2005 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger Tarantula Lady said...

Has anyone ever looked at the history of discrimination against Asian students? During the 80s, even liberal UC Berkeley secretly discriminated against Asians. It caused quite a scandal when the story broke. The Ivy League schools openly discriminated, citing "ethnic balance" as their justification.

I guess wealthy white Protestants can't compete without affirmative action. (snark) Seriously, I get fed up with WASP males whining about reverse discrimination while other ethnic groups never get a break; those groups are victimized by racism but never benefit from affirmative action because they're "model minorities" who succeed academically and financially because THEY WORK FOR IT.

11/15/2005 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Moi said...

She started with a double major of English Lit/Japanese and then switched to Sociology and is now going for History (she can get a teaching certificate after 4 years, she says). We'll see how long that lasts. LOL! She wants to be a high school teacher and/or fiction author (wonder where she gets that? ;)) though she's also talked about being a fiction editor in NYC.

She's only 19. It'll change at least seven more times before she graduates. LOL!

11/16/2005 06:33:00 AM  
Blogger jurassicpork said...

Always glad to corrupt the minds of our nation's youth. Take that, Socrates!

Only wish I'd coined the phrase.

11/19/2005 10:01:00 PM  

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