diet coke for breakfast

Monday, September 15, 2003

Posted by Tanstaafl
Bred for Power: "As anyone who has read George Orwell knows, this had ruinous effects on some boys, but those who thrived, as John F. Kennedy did, believed that life was a knightly quest to perform service and achieve greatness, through virility, courage, self-discipline and toughness.
The Protestant Establishment is dead, and nobody wants it back. But that culture, which George Bush and Howard Dean were born into, did have a formula for producing leaders. Our culture, which is freer and fairer, does not. "

Sorry Jake, you and David Adesnik both need to read more carefully. Brooks does not seem to suggest that we should re-adopt all of the practices of aristocratic boarding schools, nor did I detect a rant. I don't believe he's suggesting that to be a good leader you need to have gone through these schools. He's merely saying that some aspects of those educations contributed to character traits that we should desire in our leaders, and maybe we should preserve some of those specific aspects.

The high school I attended is the oldest day-school in the country. It was founded in 1660, and while I credit my parents with contributing the most to my character and values, many of the skills that will help me succeed in life, I can trace directly to what I learned in high school. My school emphasized the importance of writing in a way that I doubt many other schools could match. Nowhere else have I seen instructors demand so much from their students and receive it, both academically and morally. As for "excessive competition", I believe that one of the most valuable features of my school was the athletic requirement. While we had no gym class, 11 out of 12 athletic seasons, students were required to participate in athletics. We could choose fitness instruction classes of various types, but we were encouraged to try-out for JV and Varsity teams. Students who probably wouldn't have done so otherwise were thrust onto athletic teams, on which they learned about comeraderie, determination, and the self-confidence that Mr. Brooks values. Far from a destructive force, these experiences helped many of us excel in academics and other extra-curricular activities.

I don't believe that many schools today produce leaders. Future leaders, even future leaders of character may attend those schools, but the schools contribute little to instilling strong values. A man or woman of character would never shout down someone with whom they disagree, or boo people who raise their hands because a speaker has asked the audience who amongst them belongs to a particular political party. I've witnessed these and other classless and tactless acts at two of our "top schools". While I believe these schools educate students minds better than they ever have before, they do not build character.

Finally, "fierce and principled commitment to making America a better nation" is not a trait unique to leaders. Leaders inspire the best in people, while many of those committed individuals on today's campuses appeal to a lower common denominator. While I believe that my generation wants to "take the reins", I worry that when they do, our political discourse will lose any civility that it once had. While this may not be the fault of our top academic institutions, I see nothing to suggest that they have done anything to stem this tide.

Jake -- I don't think that Mr. Brooks was going off on a rant, just indulging in some unnecessary nostalgia.

The quality education with "emphasis on athletic competition, social competition and character building" that Brooks describes may once have been the domain of patrician schools, but I don't think it is anymore. I haven't that slightest doubt that your high school was excellent, that you had teachers who cared, and that they set you on the right path. But I went to public school and feel much the same way. Furthermore, I think that publics schools in the West (let's throw out California) put much more of an emphasis on civility, particularly in the rural areas.

And while higher institution that we attended had an uncanny ability to produce screed-mongers of the highest order, they were not everyone. There were patient people willing to make reasonable critiques in the face of opposition, and I would like to see those people -- the people who faced down political correctness at its worst -- become our leaders. Maybe I am a bit more optimistic about it than you are, but I am not quite willing to write us all off until the facts are in.

Two side notes:
1. Talked to a friend here at MedSchool who had spent time at that lovely former institution of ours. She said that she felt it was like the movie PCU. Never heard a better description now that I think about it.
2. On the second read through, I noticed the Mr. Brooks intro. He makes a subtle point about how Dean has managed to escape a patrician image. Where is the hostility about his time at Yale? I guess all those shirt sleeves rolled up are good for something.

James-- The question is not whether there are students at these schools capable of being leaders or embodying qualities of a good leader. The question is whether these schools contribute to those qualities. I tend to believe that American universities and colleges help build intellect and the ability to think in important and creative ways, however I don't think they promote leadership. I also don't believe that's college's job. I believe that's the job of parents, but beyond that it's a job for high-school and primary education. I'm not trying to say my shool was better than yours, or his or hers. My point was that some of the things that made my school strong were some of the same things that Mr. Brooks mentions, albeit on a more moderate scale. Some of the social competition/"Lord of the Flies" style environments at many of those schools caused much more harm than good, and I would prefer not support such institutions. However, that doesn't mean that some of the concepts that those schools espoused -- honor, civility, strength, determination, loyalty -- should be discarded. Many of today's high schools, both public and private, may produce well educated, intelligent, caring, civic-minded graduates. Do they produce leaders? Hopefully our society will always have men and women of will and strength who can lead and inspire, but are we doing enough to augment their ranks? Are we doing more, less or about the same to instill worthwhile values? Unfortunately, I think that people our age are more likely to lead mobs than movements.


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