Thursday, September 18, 2014

Have Courage to Acknowledge You Are a Sinner

Those Who Feel Themselves Sinners Are Able to Encounter Jesus, Pope Says
By Staff Reporter

VATICAN CITY, September 18, 2014 ( - Having the courage to acknowledge that we are sinners enables us to receive Christ’s caress, His forgiveness, said Pope Francis Thursday morning during Mass at Santa Marta.
The day's liturgy presents the Gospel of the sinful woman who washes Jesus' feet with her tears and anoints them with perfume drying them with her hair. Jesus is invited to the house of a Pharisee, "a person of a certain level of culture", the Pope said, who "wanted to listen to Jesus", hear his doctrine, find out more. In his own mind, he judges both Jesus and the sinful woman, thinking if Jesus "truly were a prophet he would know want kind of woman is touching him”. The Pharisee “is not a bad man” he simply “cannot understand the woman’s actions”.
"He cannot understand the simple gesture: the simple gestures of the people. Perhaps this man had forgotten how to caress a baby, how to console a grandmother. In his theories, his thoughts, his life of government - because perhaps he was a councilor of the Pharisees – he had forgotten the simple gestures of life, the very first things that we all, as newborns, received from our parents".

Pope Francis said that Jesus rebukes the Pharisee "with humility and tenderness", "his patience, his love, the desire to save everyone" leads him to explain the woman’s gesture to the Pharisee, and at the same time point to the Pharisee’s own lack of courtesy.  And amid the shocked murmuring of the crowd, he says to the woman: "Your sins are forgiven". "Go in peace, your faith has saved you!"

"He only says the word salvation - 'Your faith has saved you' – to the woman, who is a sinner. And he says it because she was able to weep for her sins, to confess her sins, to say 'I am a sinner', and admit it to herself. He doesn’t say the same to those people, who were not bad people: they simply did not believe themselves to be sinners. Other people were sinners: the tax collectors, prostitutes ... These were the sinners. Jesus says this word - 'You are saved, you are safe - only to those who open their hearts and acknowledge that they are sinners. Salvation only enters our hearts when we open them to the truth of our sins".

"The privileged place to encounter  Jesus Christ is in our sins". Pope Francis observed that this may seem like "heresy” but St. Paul also said as much when he said he would boast of only two things: his sins and the Risen Christ who saved him.

"This is why the ability to acknowledge our own sins, to acknowledge our misery, to acknowledge what we are and what we are capable of doing or have done is the very door that opens us to the Lord’s caress, His forgiveness, to His Word 'Go in peace, your faith has saved you!', because you were brave, you were brave enough to open your heart to the only One who can save you".

Jesus said to the hypocrites, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you".  These are strong words, concluded the Pope, because those who feel themselves sinners "open their hearts in the confession of their sins, to encounter Jesus, who gave His blood for us all".

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Robert Moynihan - Inside the Vatican, September 13, 2014, Saturday — Little Wars = World War III?

Without the Recovery of Reason, Little Wars = III World War: Now

"War is caused not only by those who wage it directly but also by those who do not do everything in their power to avoid it."—St. John Paul II, 1979

Has "World War III" already begun, without any formal declaration?

Perhaps... if Pope Francis is right.

This morning, Francis visited a cemetery in northern Italy, near Venice.

He went to the cemetery to commemorate soldiers who died in World War I, which began exactly 100 years ago, and continued for more than 4 years (Summer 1914-Autumn 1918).

In his reflection, Francis suggested that all of the "little wars" now occurring around the world -- especially in the Middle East and in Ukraine -- actually make up "World War III" which has already begun.

The devastation that a "World War III" is bringing and will bring, the suffering for all of us, means that those of us (even ordinary journalists) who would like to protect our families, our children, our parents, our friends, from harm, must do what we can to prevent the outbreak of such a tragedy.

Or, if the tragedy has already begun to unfold, we must do what we can to prevent it from unfolding completely -- to stop it before it grows wider.

And that is a fundamental purpose of these letters (and why they are sometimes so long).

The Pope's message today was essentially this: "No more war."

Resolve disputes by peaceful means, by negotiation, by the use of reason, not by maiming and killing, Francis is saying.

And, like several of the Middle Eastern Christian Patriarchs who were in Washington D.C. this week to draw attention to the sad plight of the region's Christians, who are fleeing the region due to civil war, the Pope denounced the global armaments industry which provides weapons to all sides in these conflicts.

The mysterious army of ISIS (the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria"), for example, has no technological infrastructure, no modern weapons' factories, to produce the up-to-date weapons it is using. Who do they get them from?

Essentially, the Pope, and the Patriarchs, are saying this: the world's manufacturers of arms, and the merchants who sell those arms, have a real share in the responsibility for the death and destruction that follows the production and distribution of these weapons.

Francis and the Patriarchs are calling on all of us to "beat swords into plowshares" -- to put the  astonishing technological capacities of mankind at the service of human welfare, of the common good of all, of providing food, shelter, clothing, running water, for all, rather than to expend and explode our limited resources in the service of military agendas, costing countless lives.

To become effective good stewards of this fragile earth would take all of our energy and daring. All of our time and money. That would be a "battle" requiring commitment and courage.

But we are far from committing ourselves to such a noble "war."

The words of Pope Francis and of the patriarchs are falling on deaf ears, and the relatively small global conflicts now occurring continue to widen and grow more numerous.

We must find a better way.

We are faced, in fact, with a spiritual battle, a battle for the soul of the West -- and for the soul of Russia.

The West should return to its ancient Christian faith, and in that faith find a basis for friendship, collaboration, and the building globally of a just peace.

And Russia should do the same.

We should not be witnesses to a tragic Third World War.

The desired end is rather mutual conversion, truth-telling about our past, and then, a strong, mutually respectful America-Russia alliance — not a Third World War.

Islam, Christianity and Reason

Thoughtful authors have reflected on Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Address as prophetic in warning about Islamic violence. And the deep reason behind that prophecy is the absence of faith in Islam. Not that Muslims do not believe in God. They do, but not in the God of Jesus Christ. The God of Jesus Christ is the Person of His Father. And He can be accessed only by passing through the Son. Christ testified, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10, 30) and “no one comes to the Father but through me” (Jn. 14, 6). This means that there must be a relation to the Son such that one must get out of oneself. And this involves a struggle, an anthropology of self-transcendence and of lowering self. What’s more, it involves a death event such that we understand the sacrament of Baptism as a triple drowning with the emergence of a new self: “I live; no, not I. Christ lives in me” (Gal.2, 20). Somehow in Christian faith one must go through a conversion of not trusting in oneself and making a radical leap of acceptance. The self is left behind and Another fills the void.

                There is need here for a boost from phenomenology so as to be able to differentiate that there is a way of knowing that is consciousness that accompanies the moral experience of the self going out of self. It is other and complementary to the formation of concepts and ideas that are taken by way of abstraction from sensible experience. So, there are two levels of experience: that of the self in the moral act, and that of sensible things that we abstract from and form concepts (ideas). Consciousness is the way of knowing that has been confused with the self, itself. From Descartes on, the self has been identified with consciousness, and therefore, what philosophers have called idealism and relativism. This is a most logical error since consciousness accompanies the self in its experience of itself as agent. But it can be seen through as David Walsh puts it: “To know appearance as appearance is already to go beyond mere appearance; it is already to know the thing-in-itself.”[1]

                Ratzinger gives the prototypical example in the formulation of the act of faith in Jesus Christ. Luke recounts Simon entering into the prayer of Christ to the Father (Lk. 9, 18), and in so doing experiencing in himself what it is to act as Christ acts (Lk. 9, 18), and therefore become another Christ. The result was Christ asking him, “who do men say that I am…?” and “who do you say that I am? And the response comes from (then) Simon’s interior experience of himself having undergone the conversion (we understand to be faith) of having become another Christ. The proof is Christ changing his name from Simon to Peter (“rock”) as Christ’s true messianic name is “cornerstone.” Stone is known by stone, since knowing emerges from such an ontological identity. The pre-Christian mind of Simon becomes the Christian mind of Peter. That is, there is an ontological change in Simon such that by going out himself as prayer to the Father, he becomes another Christ, and experiences that change to have taken place in himself. Hence, when Christ asks him “Who do you say that I am?” Simon-now-become-Christ answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16) because he has become consciousness of the ontological change that had occurred in him. Christ now changes his name from Simon to Peter (rock) as Christ is “cornerstone.”[2]

                Consciousness, which is reason, has expanded under the experience of self-transcendence by being exposed to the ontological reality of being “another Christ.” As being of the self changes and expands, reason broadens from mere abstractive conceptualization to consciousness. This is the profound reason in Benedict’s theological epistemology that reason cannot function truly as reason[3] without the self-transcendence and conversion of self to Christ, and this because Christ is the meaning of person, and person is the meaning of being[4].  And this across the boards beyond Christianity and any and all religion ideologically. The deep reason is that Christian faith is not reducible to concepts and ideology because it is an anthropology of self-giving and self-transcendence (guided conceptually by Scripture and Magisterium), and, in truth, one cannot give the self totally to death without Christ as Receptor. The normal denouement of Christian faith is martyrdom (see Veritatis Splendor #89).  Hence, Christian faith is critical for reason to function because it is the being of the believer that reason experiences and becomes conscious of. It is this consciousness of the ontologically real self in which all subsequent “knowing” of things is embedded and to which it gives meaning.

This consciousness – which is the life of reason – is unavailable for Islam as religion. For them, God is totally transcendent to man and cannot be accessed in any experiential way. However, it could be made available  if there were an immanent cooperative work in which both sides enjoyed a common experience, and therefore a common consciousness and which, when reflected upon, could produce a common conceptualization and vocabulary such that there could be dialogue. At that point, violence begins to vanish.

                And let me quickly add that we are not working with a full deck of cards either. Reason in the Christian West has withered and been dumbed down by the self-imposed limitation of positivism, and become nihilistic.[5]  It is an empirical totalitarianism. We are permitted to accept only objectified data reduced to empirical sensation and abstracted to facticity.  Reason groans in the absence of Being and this thin gruel. The criterion is subjective certainty, as if certainty for us was a guarantee of realism. Insofar as we are not working with reason in full contact with the real which involves the metaphysical  self, we need to go through serious examination and conversion.[6] In the meantime, it is clear that force must be used in the Middle East to defend persons against ISIS since they are literally out of control and violent. But the long range is not force or control but common activities that pull each side out of self and to regain and broaden reason.

[1] David Walsh, “The Modern Philosophical Revolution – The Luminosity of Existence,” Cambridge, (2008) 30. This is the deep reason Walsh holds that Kant is the first to expose the existential epistemology of so called German “Idealism” from Kant to Heidegger.
[2] Cf. Ratzinger’s “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 25-27.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “A Christian Orientation in a Pluralistic Democracy?” in Church, Ecumenism and Politics Crossroad (1988) 218.  “What is essential is that reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational, just as the state that aims tat being perfect becomes tyrannical. Reason needs revelation in order to be able to be effective as reason. The connection between the state and its Christian foundations is imperative precisely if it is to remain the state and be pluralist.”
[4] “In special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry… We face a great challenge at the end of this millennium to move from phenomenon to foundation, a step as necessary as it is urgent We cannot stop short at experience [both sensible and moral] alone; even if experience does reveal the human being’s interiority and spirituality, speculative thinking must penetrate to the spiritual core and the ground from which it rises. Therefore, a philosophy which shuns metaphysics would be radically unsuited to the task of mediation in the understanding of revelation;” John Paul II,  Fides et Ratio #83.
[5] “Reason, rather than voicing the human orientation toward truth, has wilted unter the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being;” John Paul II, Fides et Ratio #5.
[6] Consider Benedict XVI’s four major talks on broadening reason to the university La Sapienza, the Sixth European Symposium of University Professors, "A New Humanism for Europe. The Role of the Universities" and Regensburg.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Supreme Access to Reality and The Recovery Of Reason

Pope Benedict XVI on May 13, 2007.

"Stay with us, Lord, keep us company, even though we have not always recognized you.  Stay with us, because all around us the shadows are deepening, and you are the Light; discouragement is eating its way into our hearts:  make them burn with the certainty of Easter.  We are tired of the journey, but you comfort us in the breaking of bread, so that we are able to proclaim to our brothers and sisters that you have truly risen and have entrusted us with the mission of being witnesses of your resurrection.

Stay with us, Lord, when mists of doubt, weariness or difficulty rise up around our Catholic faith; you are Truth itself, you are the one who reveals the Father to us; enlighten our minds with your word, and help us to experience the beauty of believing in you.

Remain in our families, enlighten them in their doubts, sustain then in their difficulties, console then in their sufferings and their daily labours, when around them shadows build up which threaten their unity and their natural identity.  You are Life itself;  remain in our homes, so that they may continue to be nests where human life is generously born, where life is welcomed, loved and respected from conception to natural death.

Remain, Lord, with those in our societies who are most vulnerable; remain with the poor and lowly, with indigenous peoples and Afro-Americans, who have not always found space and support to express the richness of their cultures and the wisdom of their identity.  Remain, Lord, with our children and with our young people, who are the hope and the treasure of our Continent, protect them from so many snares that attack their innocence and their legitimate hopes.  O Good Shepherd, remain with our elderly and with our sick.  Strengthen them all in faith, so that they may be your disciples and missionaries.!"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Only a Recovery of Reason by Self-Transcendence on Both Sides, Christian and Muslim

Father Samir on ISIS: ‘What They Are Doing Is Diabolical’ (22474)
A leading Catholic scholar of Islam analyzes why the Islamic militants have been so successful — and how they can be combatted.
BY EDWARD PENTIN 09/02/2014 Comments (57)

Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir

– Aid to the Church in Need

What are the reasons for the murderous rampage currently being undertaken by the jihadist troops of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? A decline in moral values in the West, coupled with a history of violent conquest within Islam, is behind the “diabolical” atrocities committed in Iraq and Syria by these Islamic militants, many of whom are uneducated and at the mercy of fundamentalist preachers.
This is according to Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, a leading scholar of Islam and a former student under professor Joseph Ratzinger.

In this extensive Aug. 30 interview with the Register via telephone from Beirut, Father Samir, a native Egyptian, discusses how secular and Islamist intolerance are exacerbating a “clash of civilizations,” how education is crucial to eradicating the scourge of extremism and whether ISIS has a future. 

To what extent is the hedonism of the West and a decline in moral values fueling this brand of Islamic extremism?

This is a very important point, and people are not aware of it in the West. If we go back a little bit, the West was, for a long time, associated with modernity and technical innovation. Egypt, for example, entered [its modernistic] period in the middle of the 19th century up until, more or less, the middle of the 20th century. The Egyptians were trying to adapt themselves to Western culture. They viewed it as modernity because everything they used and wanted to have came from the West, which was seen as Christian.

But in recent times, the West has given a very bad image of itself, mainly regarding the questions on sexual liberation. Homosexuality, for example, is considered normal today in the West. It’s considered as a variant of heterosexuality, and sexual relations between men and women are no longer sacred.
When I used to go back to Egypt, I was asked: “Is it true that men and women are having sex in public?” I said: “No, this is not true.” But this was the image they had.
Then came the Gulf and Iraq wars, which were seen as anti-Islamic.

Do you think these wars have often been viewed as defending the increasing immorality in the West?

Yes, it has been seen as the West imposing its superiority; and the wars, whether just or not, are always seen as coming from the hands of the United States and Israel. But the reaction to the immorality of the West is clearer. Everything about modernity is seen as wrong for these people — I mean the Islamists.

Do you believe this trend is also linked to a kind of latent anger within Islamic extremists against the West for not being true to its Christian roots? Would they respect the West more if it was?

The image of the West is combined in the minds of the Islamic extremists with sin and the wrong things and the wrong power. But at the same time, everyone is using Western products, especially technology. You have a kind of aggression because the West is seen as dominating the world, which could be a force for good, but they see it as domination and not progress. So the tendency is to regress to the seventh century, which they feel must be the best thing, because that was the time of the Prophet [Mohammed].
I was looking at some YouTube videos of ISIS, and it’s incredible. They do everything saying, “Allahu Akbar” [God is great] before doing it, putting everything under God and the call of Islam. Even when killing an innocent, they scream, ‟Allahu Akbar.” These Islamists are going back to the seventh century, especially in a radical way and with war.

One video I saw said the caliphate is the only solution and will be achieved by the sword. So it’s a rejection of the West’s moral values and its domination. The absurdity is that they are using violence against themselves, because Islamists call kāfir (infidel) anyone who disagrees with them and are then allowed to kill him.

To what extent is the fanaticism also due to the clarity that extremism provides, both in doctrine and perceived moral strength, in contrast to predominantly secular societies dominated by moral relativism and agnosticism? Is this a clash of contrasts?

The question of relativism is certainly behind this. These groups are radicals; that means they pretend to know exactly what is right and wrong, and they define it. It includes even the smallest things, ways of behaving and also a lot of sexual promises for those who go to paradise. It’s incredible! I’ve seen this morning a YouTube clip showing hundreds of people listening to a preacher in a mosque, who was describing how heaven will be. Every good Muslim will have his wife there for 70 years, but he will also have 72 girls of the highest quality, and each girl will have 72 slave girls that he could use, and so on. The preacher was smiling and saying, “This is our heaven.” It’s incredible to hear. …
Everything is very clear [to them]: “You do it this way.” Anybody who is a little bit outside of this vision is a kāfir.

Some years ago, seven years ago, there was a meeting in Saudi Arabia organized by the king to reform Islam. The main point was, first of all, to stop the takfīr — that is, saying the other is a kāfir, an infidel. The takfīr is used every day in everything. Anybody who is not doing exactly as these people want to do is a kāfir, and they say, “We have the right to kill him.”

Would you say this correlation between growing moral relativism in the West and this fanaticism is, in a sense, what Benedict XVI was warning about in his famous speech in Regensburg in 2006?

Secularity [civil society, religious freedom and liberty of conscience] has been around for maybe two centuries in the West. [Blogger: from  the time of the American Revolution and the separation of Church and State] To understand it, you need to have experienced a little bit of Western culture where religion, state, ethics and politics are distinguished. But the amalgam of these: This is the weakness and the force of Islam. Everything is, and can be, Islam. You eat Islamic, you dress Islamic, so that it gives you a strength, an incredible strength, but also puts up barriers. You cannot understand another approach, and this is the problem.

Secularity, as Pope Benedict also underlined in his famous speech in Regensburg, is something universal, where there is room for everyone and for other faiths or absence of faith. It includes liberty of thinking and freedom of conscience, liberty of changing your faith, etc.[1] This is unknown in Islamic culture and unacceptable. But it is fundamental for living together in a civilized society. 

People don’t understand it. They [Muslim extremists] say: “We respect and defend freedom of religion,” but then they oblige a Muslim to remain Muslim, and he cannot convert. But I say: “But then where is the freedom of conscience?” And they say: “Yes, but not the freedom to do something wrong.” So we are speaking two different languages and living in two different worlds. Also, within Islam, you have liberal Muslims, whom the extremists laugh at or react violently towards. The liberal Muslims are only intellectuals and could be about 1 million, but that is nothing in comparison with the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.

The other important thing to note is the lack of education. In Egypt, we have 40% who are illiterate, which means around 35 million Egyptians. They cannot write their names. It’s the same in Morocco, and it’s 50% in Yemen. So their only guideline is religion, as expressed by the preachers who are able to quote the Quran and hadith (Mohammad’s sentences), which is regarded as the authentic Islam.
The majority of Muslims are shocked by the actions of these terrorists, but many see them as authentic Muslims, and so few speak clearly against them.

Would you say that growing secular intolerance of religion in the West and anything that doesn’t match secular values, together with a growing lack of respect for conscientious objection, is mirrored in Islamic extremism and that this intolerance and disregard for freedom of conscience on both sides is leading to an inevitable clash?

Yes, both positions are becoming more radical. In France, for instance, the smallest sign of Islamism on the street is seen as a provocation, and they treat it juridically. And this makes these Muslims become more radical. The question of the veil, for example, is used on both sides as a symbol of the true Islam for radical Muslims and as an aggression of Islamism for the French people. So the clash of civilization that has been predicted by Samuel Huntington is growing because those who are reasonable, or moderate, are not reacting.
There’s also something that’s internal to them — that radicals are ready to do anything: fight on the street, go to prison; they do whatever their conscience tells them to do. Moderates say they’re stupid people and that one cannot discuss anything with them. So moderates are not speaking; they’re not writing; a few are reacting in private journals. The radicals, who are few, much fewer, are more aggressive.

Would you say ISIS is in any way representative of true Islam?

We hear, very often, Muslims say: ‟This has nothing to do with Islam.” This is a spontaneous reaction of Muslims on the street. But, in fact, it’s a false reaction. This is a part of Islam, and we can find it in the Quran itself and much more in the life of Mohammed, who had a very strong and violent attitude toward unbelievers.
Mohammed was somewhat tolerant towards Jews and Christians. But he was absolutely intolerant to those who were neither Jews nor Christians. The only solution for them in the Quran and in the life of Mohammed was to convert or die.

So these fanatics are following this line, with one difference: They call ‟unbeliever” (kāfir) anyone who is not like them, even the Shia, the Yazīdi or the Christian. In this case, the fanatics are not following the Quran and the sunnah [a Muslim way of life based on the teachings of Mohammed and the Quran]. But when they say, ‟We have to kill unbelievers, unless they become Muslim,” this is part of the teaching of Islam.

The main thing to note is that violence is an element of Islam. Violence is not an element of Christianity. When Christians were using violence in wars and so on, they were not following the Gospel, nor the life of Christ. When Muslims are using it, they are following the Quran and the sunnah and Mohammed’s model. This is a very important point.

Muslims have to rethink Islam for today’s world. We have a similar problem in Christianity, Judaism and in all religions. In the Old Testament, we have a lot of violence: When Jews entered the so-called Holy Land, they used violence under order of God, not because they…

This is the Bible, and the Bible is the word of God. But the question is, “How do I understand it for me today?” And this is the main question for every religion and the main problem for Islam. They are not doing any kind of interpretation. In the past, they did it. There’s a principle well known in Islam that we have to look at, the so-called maqāsid al shari'ah, i.e. ‟the intention of the sharia” [Islamic law].
Let us take an example: When the Quran says we have to cut the hand off of a thief, those who say, ‟We have to follow the maqāsid,” they ask: ‟Why?” And they answer: ‟It means: to stop him from doing this again.” So now, the aim (the maqāsid) of the question is this one: the intention is not to cut off the hand, but to forbid him from doing the same thing again. If today we have other means, then we use them, and we should look at the intention of the Quran’s order.

This is what Christ did with adultery, when he said, ‟Whoever is without sin, start stoning the woman caught in adultery.” By so doing, he saved the heart of this woman, so that she could convert to another way of life; and he saved the hearts of the men who wanted to kill her, inviting them to examine first their own consciences: Are they so perfect? This is the true way of interpreting God’s word.

Is this the only way ISIS will be beaten, do you think?
They cannot change the text of the Quran, as we cannot change the text of the Bible. The problem is that they consider the Quran not as inspired by God, but as the literal word of God. That’s the theological problem.

I speak with them very often about this problem, and I tell them: ‟We have had the same problem.” The word of God, when we read it in church, we say: ‟This is the word of God.” But what does it mean? Does it mean that God wrote it literally with his hand? The Bible also says the Ten Commandments were written with the finger of God. It’s a way of speaking, to say that this is divine.

Muslims did this in the Middle Ages: Avicenna, for instance, has a philosophical treatise on the so-called pleasures in heaven to explain that it cannot be physical pleasure. So they reinterpreted the Quran’s words on heaven’s pleasure a millennium ago, but, today, they developed with plenty of details all the so-called physical pleasures the mujahid [a Muslim engaged in the struggle to follow the path of Allah] will enjoy in heaven. It means that, now, they have regressed.

To overcome this problem, the Islamic world needs to overhaul its education system. Islamic education is very, very poor. It’s based on memorizing everything: the Quran, the sunnah, thousands of sentences of Mohammed, and you have to memorize them again and again. It’s wonderful when you hear a good teacher quoting the Quran and sunnah every second sentence. People admire this. They say this is the true Islam, but, in fact, this preacher is choosing only one aspect of the Quran, and the people don’t know it.

So a rethinking of the Quran and its rules, as well as a theological or philosophical or spiritual interpretation, is needed. The present interpretation is nothing more than a simple repetition, without any reflection. Learning to interpret a text should start at school — should start already with small children, as well as at home and in the family.

With all this in mind, do you think ISIS and these extremists have a future?

They will have success for a while, but I hope for not too long. It’s unthinkable what they are doing. It is so inhuman that people don’t know how to react. It will last, and it could be some years. They are operating exactly as the Prophet did at the beginning, with war and conquest. Once you conquer a country, you do what you want with it. This is very, very dangerous, especially if these terrorists still receive money and weapons — then they won’t fear anything. In each case, they are “winners”: If they kill, they win; if they are killed, they win, because they believe they have won paradise. So they are “winning” in both cases, whatever happens. They have no principles or norms or values or standards, other than to literally apply sharia. [Blogger: In a word, they do not have reason]

The astonishing thing, as you said at the very beginning, is that they are fighting the immorality of the West and Western hedonism. But they are doing many more immoral things in the name of Islam.
I don’t like to say this word, but, in a way, what they are doing is diabolical; it’s something the world has never seen in history. We’ve seen a lot of cruelty, but this is a planned cruelty. This is why I think there’s no future for them in the long term. But in the short term, they will win more and more, and we have to stop them. Now.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

[1] Blogger: But this only happens in a culture built on the dignity of the human person – which comes from the experience and consciousness of going out self to accept God Who became man. Without that  experience and consciousness, there can be no freedom of self-determination and the distinction between Church and State, and the state becomes theocratical and totalitarian.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ivy League: The nation's top colleges are turning our kids into zombies

Blogger: This essay and the author’s response below to criticisms of it is important. However, it still leaves unanswered, on my own reading, what real education is and should be.
IIn the spring of 2008, I did a daylong stint on the Yale admissions committee. We—that is, three admissions staff, a member of the college dean’s office, and me, the faculty representative—were going through submissions from eastern Pennsylvania. The applicants had been assigned a score from one to four, calculated from a string of figures and codes—SATs, GPA, class rank, numerical scores to which the letters of recommendation had been converted, special notations for legacies and diversity cases. The ones had already been admitted, and the threes and fours could get in only under special conditions—if they were a nationally ranked athlete, for instance, or a “DevA,” (an applicant in the highest category of “development” cases, which means a child of very rich donors). Our task for the day was to adjudicate among the twos. Huge bowls of junk food were stationed at the side of the room to keep our energy up.
The junior officer in charge, a young man who looked to be about 30, presented each case, rat-a-tat-tat, in a blizzard of admissions jargon that I had to pick up on the fly. “Good rig”: the transcript exhibits a good degree of academic rigor. “Ed level 1”: parents have an educational level no higher than high school, indicating a genuine hardship case. “MUSD”: a musician in the highest category of promise. Kids who had five or six items on their list of extracurriculars—the “brag”—were already in trouble, because that wasn’t nearly enough. We listened, asked questions, dove into a letter or two, then voted up or down.
With so many accomplished applicants to choose from, we were looking for kids with something special, “PQs”—personal qualities—that were often revealed by the letters or essays. Kids who only had the numbers and the résumé were usually rejected: “no spark,” “not a team-builder,” “this is pretty much in the middle of the fairway for us.” One young person, who had piled up a truly insane quantity of extracurriculars and who submitted nine letters of recommendation, was felt to be “too intense.” On the other hand, the numbers and the résumé were clearly indispensable. I’d been told that successful applicants could either be “well-rounded” or “pointy”—outstanding in one particular way—but if they were pointy, they had to be really pointy: a musician whose audition tape had impressed the music department, a scientist who had won a national award.
“Super People,” the writer James Atlas has called them—the stereotypical ultra-high-achieving elite college students of today. A double major, a sport, a musical instrument, a couple of foreign languages, service work in distant corners of the globe, a few hobbies thrown in for good measure: They have mastered them all, and with a serene self-assurance that leaves adults and peers alike in awe. A friend who teaches at a top university once asked her class to memorize 30 lines of the eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope. Nearly every single kid got every single line correct. It was a thing of wonder, she said, like watching thoroughbreds circle a track.
These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.
When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them—the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education.
I should say that this subject is very personal for me. Like so many kids today, I went off to college like a sleepwalker. You chose the most prestigious place that let you in; up ahead were vaguely understood objectives: status, wealth—“success.” What it meant to actually get an education and why you might want one—all this was off the table. It was only after 24 years in the Ivy League—college and a Ph.D. at Columbia, ten years on the faculty at Yale—that I started to think about what this system does to kids and how they can escape from it, what it does to our society and how we can dismantle it.

Ayoung woman from another school wrote me this about her boyfriend at Yale:
Before he started college, he spent most of his time reading and writing short stories. Three years later, he’s painfully insecure, worrying about things my public-educated friends don’t give a second thought to, like the stigma of eating lunch alone and whether he’s “networking” enough. No one but me knows he fakes being well-read by thumbing through the first and last chapters of any book he hears about and obsessively devouring reviews in lieu of the real thing. He does this not because he’s incurious, but because there’s a bigger social reward for being able to talk about books than for actually reading them.
I taught many wonderful young people during my years in the Ivy League—bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development. Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice.
Look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-year history.
So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.
There are exceptions, kids who insist, against all odds, on trying to get a real education. But their experience tends to make them feel like freaks. One student told me that a friend of hers had left Yale because she found the school “stifling to the parts of yourself that you’d call a soul.”

“Return on investment”: that’s the phrase you often hear today when people talk about college. What no one seems to ask is what the “return” is supposed to be. Is it just about earning more money? Is the only purpose of an education to enable you to get a job? What, in short, is college for?
The first thing that college is for is to teach you to think. That doesn’t simply mean developing the mental skills particular to individual disciplines. College is an opportunity to stand outside the world for a few years, between the orthodoxy of your family and the exigencies of career, and contemplate things from a distance.
Learning how to think is only the beginning, though. There’s something in particular you need to think about: building a self. The notion may sound strange. “We’ve taught them,” David Foster Wallace once said, “that a self is something you just have.” But it is only through the act of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, the mind and experience, that you become an individual, a unique being—a soul. The job of college is to assist you to begin to do that. Books, ideas, works of art and thought, the pressure of the minds around you that are looking for their own answers in their own ways.
College is not the only chance to learn to think, but it is the best. One thing is certain: If you haven’t started by the time you finish your B.A., there’s little likelihood you’ll do it later. That is why an undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation is four years largely wasted.
Elite schools like to boast that they teach their students how to think, but all they mean is that they train them in the analytic and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions. Everything is technocratic—the development of expertise—and everything is ultimately justified in technocratic terms.
Religious colleges—even obscure, regional schools that no one has ever heard of on the coasts—often do a much better job in that respect. What an indictment of the Ivy League and its peers: that colleges four levels down on the academic totem pole, enrolling students whose SAT scores are hundreds of points lower than theirs, deliver a better education, in the highest sense of the word.
At least the classes at elite schools are academically rigorous, demanding on their own terms, no? Not necessarily. In the sciences, usually; in other disciplines, not so much. There are exceptions, of course, but professors and students have largely entered into what one observer called a “nonaggression pact.” Students are regarded by the institution as “customers,” people to be pandered to instead of challenged. Professors are rewarded for research, so they want to spend as little time on their classes as they can. The profession’s whole incentive structure is biased against teaching, and the more prestigious the school, the stronger the bias is likely to be. The result is higher marks for shoddier work.
It is true that today’s young people appear to be more socially engaged than kids have been for several decades and that they are more apt to harbor creative or entrepreneurial impulses. But it is also true, at least at the most selective schools, that even if those aspirations make it out of college—a big “if”—they tend to be played out within the same narrow conception of what constitutes a valid life: affluence, credentials, prestige.
Experience itself has been reduced to instrumental function, via the college essay. From learning to commodify your experiences for the application, the next step has been to seek out experiences in order to have them to commodify. The New York Times reports that there is now a thriving sector devoted to producing essay-ready summers, but what strikes one is the superficiality of the activities involved: a month traveling around Italy studying the Renaissance, “a whole day” with a band of renegade artists. A whole day!
I’ve noticed something similar when it comes to service. Why is it that people feel the need to go to places like Guatemala to do their projects of rescue or documentation, instead of Milwaukee or Arkansas? When students do stay in the States, why is it that so many head for New Orleans? Perhaps it’s no surprise, when kids are trained to think of service as something they are ultimately doing for themselves—that is, for their résumés. “Do well by doing good,” goes the slogan. How about just doing good?
If there is one idea, above all, through which the concept of social responsibility is communicated at the most prestigious schools, it is “leadership.” “Harvard is for leaders,” goes the Cambridge cliché. To be a high-achieving student is to constantly be urged to think of yourself as a future leader of society. But what these institutions mean by leadership is nothing more than getting to the top. Making partner at a major law firm or becoming a chief executive, climbing the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy you decide to attach yourself to. I don’t think it occurs to the people in charge of elite colleges that the concept of leadership ought to have a higher meaning, or, really, any meaning.
The irony is that elite students are told that they can be whatever they want, but most of them end up choosing to be one of a few very similar things. As of 2010, about a third of graduates went into financing or consulting at a number of top schools, including Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell. Whole fields have disappeared from view: the clergy, the military, electoral politics, even academia itself, for the most part, including basic science. It’s considered glamorous to drop out of a selective college if you want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, but ludicrous to stay in to become a social worker. “What Wall Street figured out,” as Ezra Klein has put it, “is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, an incredible work ethic and no idea what to do next.”
For the most selective colleges, this system is working very well indeed. Application numbers continue to swell, endowments are robust, tuition hikes bring ritual complaints but no decline in business. Whether it is working for anyone else is a different question.

It almost feels ridiculous to have to insist that colleges like Harvard are bastions of privilege, where the rich send their children to learn to walk, talk, and think like the rich. Don’t we already know this? They aren’t called elite colleges for nothing. But apparently we like pretending otherwise. We live in a meritocracy, after all.
The sign of the system’s alleged fairness is the set of policies that travel under the banner of “diversity.” And that diversity does indeed represent nothing less than a social revolution. Princeton, which didn’t even admit its first woman graduatestudent until 1961—a year in which a grand total of one (no doubt very lonely) African American matriculated at its college—is now half female and only about half white. But diversity of sex and race has become a cover for increasing economic resegregation. Elite colleges are still living off the moral capital they earned in the 1960s, when they took the genuinely courageous step of dismantling the mechanisms of the WASP aristocracy.
The truth is that the meritocracy was never more than partial. Visit any elite campus across our great nation, and you can thrill to the heart-warming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. Kids at schools like Stanford think that their environment is diverse if one comes from Missouri and another from Pakistan, or if one plays the cello and the other lacrosse. Never mind that all of their parents are doctors or bankers.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few exceptions, but that is all they are. In fact, the group that is most disadvantaged by our current admissions policies are working-class and rural whites, who are hardly present on selective campuses at all. The only way to think these places are diverse is if that’s all you’ve ever seen.
Let’s not kid ourselves: The college admissions game is not primarily about the lower and middle classes seeking to rise, or even about the upper-middle class attempting to maintain its position. It is about determining the exact hierarchy of status within the upper-middle class itself. In the affluent suburbs and well-heeled urban enclaves where this game is principally played, it is not about whether you go to an elite school. It’s about which one you go to. It is Penn versus Tufts, not Penn versus Penn State. It doesn’t matter that a bright young person can go to Ohio State, become a doctor, settle in Dayton, and make a very good living. Such an outcome is simply too horrible to contemplate.
This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead. The numbers are undeniable. In 1985, 46 percent of incoming freshmen at the 250 most selective colleges came from the top quarter of the income distribution. By 2000, it was 55 percent. As of 2006, only about 15 percent of students at the most competitive schools came from the bottom half. The more prestigious the school, the more unequal its student body is apt to be. And public institutions are not much better than private ones. As of 2004, 40 percent of first-year students at the most selective state campuses came from families with incomes of more than $100,000, up from 32 percent just five years earlier.
The major reason for the trend is clear. Not increasing tuition, though that is a factor, but the ever-growing cost of manufacturing children who are fit to compete in the college admissions game. The more hurdles there are, the more expensive it is to catapult your kid across them. Wealthy families start buying their children’s way into elite colleges almost from the moment they are born: music lessons, sports equipment, foreign travel (“enrichment” programs, to use the all-too-perfect term)—most important, of course, private-school tuition or the costs of living in a place with top-tier public schools. The SAT is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely. Today, fewer than half of high-scoring students from low-income families even enroll at four-year schools.
The problem isn’t that there aren’t more qualified lower-income kids from which to choose. Elite private colleges will never allow their students’ economic profile to mirror that of society as a whole. They can’t afford to—they need a critical mass of full payers and they need to tend to their donor base—and it’s not even clear that they’d want to.
And so it is hardly a coincidence that income inequality is higher than it has been since before the Great Depression, or that social mobility is lower in the United States than in almost every other developed country. Elite colleges are not just powerless to reverse the movement toward a more unequal society; their policies actively promote it.

Is there anything that I can do, a lot of young people have written to ask me, to avoid becoming an out-of-touch, entitled little shit? I don’t have a satisfying answer, short of telling them to transfer to a public university. You cannot cogitate your way to sympathy with people of different backgrounds, still less to knowledge of them. You need to interact with them directly, and it has to be on an equal footing: not in the context of “service,” and not in the spirit of “making an effort,” either—swooping down on a member of the college support staff and offering to “buy them a coffee,” as a former Yalie once suggested, in order to “ask them about themselves.”
Instead of service, how about service work? That’ll really give you insight into other people. How about waiting tables so that you can see how hard it is, physically and mentally? You really aren’t as smart as everyone has been telling you; you’re only smarter in a certain way. There are smart people who do not go to a prestigious college, or to any college—often precisely for reasons of class. There are smart people who are not “smart.”
I am under no illusion that it doesn’t matter where you go to college. But there are options. There are still very good public universities in every region of the country. The education is often impersonal, but the student body is usually genuinely diverse in terms of socioeconomic background, with all of the invaluable experiential learning that implies.
U.S. News and World Report supplies the percentage of freshmen at each college who finished in the highest 10 percent of their high school class. Among the top 20 universities, the number is usually above 90 percent. I’d be wary of attending schools like that. Students determine the level of classroom discussion; they shape your values and expectations, for good and ill. It’s partly because of the students that I’d warn kids away from the Ivies and their ilk. Kids at less prestigious schools are apt to be more interesting, more curious, more open, and far less entitled and competitive.
If there is anywhere that college is still college—anywhere that teaching and the humanities are still accorded pride of place—it is the liberal arts college. Such places are small, which is not for everyone, and they’re often fairly isolated, which is also not for everyone. The best option of all may be the second-tier—not second-rate—colleges, like Reed, Kenyon, Wesleyan, Sewanee, Mount Holyoke, and others. Instead of trying to compete with Harvard and Yale, these schools have retained their allegiance to real educational values.
Not being an entitled little shit is an admirable goal. But in the end, the deeper issue is the situation that makes it so hard to be anything else. The time has come, not simply to reform that system top to bottom, but to plot our exit to another kind of society altogether.
The education system has to act to mitigate the class system, not reproduce it. Affirmative action should be based on class instead of race, a change that many have been advocating for years. Preferences for legacies and athletes ought to be discarded. SAT scores should be weighted to account for socioeconomic factors. Colleges should put an end to résumé-stuffing by imposing a limit on the number of extracurriculars that kids can list on their applications. They ought to place more value on the kind of service jobs that lower-income students often take in high school and that high achievers almost never do. They should refuse to be impressed by any opportunity that was enabled by parental wealth. Of course, they have to stop cooperating with U.S. News.
More broadly, they need to rethink their conception of merit. If schools are going to train a better class of leaders than the ones we have today, they’re going to have to ask themselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote. Selecting students by GPA or the number of extracurriculars more often benefits the faithful drudge than the original mind.
The changes must go deeper, though, than reforming the admissions process. That might address the problem of mediocrity, but it won’t address the greater one of inequality. The problem is the Ivy League itself. We have contracted the training of our leadership class to a set of private institutions. However much they claim to act for the common good, they will always place their interests first. The arrangement is great for the schools, but is Harvard’s desire for alumni donations a sufficient reason to perpetuate the class system?
I used to think that we needed to create a world where every child had an equal chance to get to the Ivy League. I’ve come to see that what we really need is to create one where you don’t have to go to the Ivy League, or any private college, to get a first-rate education.
High-quality public education, financed with public money, for the benefit of all: the exact commitment that drove the growth of public higher education in the postwar years. Everybody gets an equal chance to go as far as their hard work and talent will take them—you know, the American dream. Everyone who wants it gets to have the kind of mind-expanding, soul-enriching experience that a liberal arts education provides. We recognize that free, quality K–12 education is a right of citizenship. We also need to recognize—as we once did and as many countries still do—that the same is true of higher education. We have tried aristocracy. We have tried meritocracy. Now it’s time to try democracy.

William Deresiewicz is the author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life, coming out August 19 from Free Press. He taught at Yale from 1998 to 2008.

Your Criticism of My Ivy League Takedown Further Proves My Point
By William DeresiewiczPhoto: Bethany Clarke/Getty Images
My goal in writing "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League," which appeared last month in The New Republic, was to start a conversation. That certainly has happened, with a number of criticisms directed at my piece. My best response is my new book from which the essay was drawn, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, where I go into these issues in much greater depth. I also propose a constructive vision of what college should be about—not just for the privileged, but everyone—as well as how students can save themselves from the current system and find their way to a sense of purpose.
The criticisms fall into several categories. The first asks, What’s your evidence for all these claims? Here is my evidence. I first sketched out these observations in an essay, "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education," in 2008. The piece went viral. Since then, it has been read over a million times—not all at once, but steadily, at the rate, after the initial surge, of about 10,000 page views a month. In other words, people have been reading it and passing it along for the last six years, an eternity on the Internet. It's clearthat I tapped into an enormous hunger to discuss these issues.
To judge from the hundreds of emails I've received in response to that piece, that hunger was greatest among young people, students and recent graduates of selective colleges, almost all of whom have told me some version of: Thank you for putting my feelings into words. Add to that the hundreds of students I've met at events (often student-initiated) at campuses across the country. I've also talked with parents, professors, administrators, older alumni, and employers. Nearly all have concurred with my observations. So have many of the people who have also written on these matters—Harry R. Lewis, the former dean of Harvard College, and Terry Castle, a long-time professor at Stanford, to name just two.
So that's my evidence: not systematic, but very substantial. I have spent the last six years listening, thinking, reading, and writing about these issues, on top of 15 years at the front of Yale and Columbia classrooms. I've been accused of hypocrisy for having been associated with Ivy League schools myself but wanting to dissuade others from going. But my recognitions dawned only slowly, as I realized what the system had been doing to me—and more to the point, what it was doing to the students in front of me. I feel I have an obligation to speak out.
Critics also questioned my claims about the extreme psychological stress  (and distress) that the system creates. These kids are doing just fine, they say. Or: College students have always been stressed out. No, they haven't—not like this. We are putting these kids under the kind of pressure that no young person should have to endure, and a lot of them are cracking.
We already know this with respect to high-achieving students in high school. In The Price of Privilege, Madeline Levine cites a raft of troubling statistics: “Preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families … experience among the highest rates ofdepressionsubstance abuseanxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in this country”; “As many as 22 percent of adolescent girls from financially comfortable families suffer from clinical depression.” Mental health problems “can be two to five times more prevalent among private high school juniors and seniors” than among their public-school counterparts.
There is no reason to believe that the situation improves when these kids get to college, and plenty of reasons to believe it does not. In a recent survey—summarized by the American Psychological Association under the headline “The Crisis on Campus”—nearly half of college students reported feelings of hopelessness, while almost a third spoke of feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function during the past 12 months.” Convening a task force on student mental health in 2006, Stanford’s provost wrote that “increasingly, we are seeing students struggling with mental health concerns ranging from self-esteem issues and developmental disorders to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-mutilation behaviors, schizophrenia and suicidal behavior.”
The closer you are to these kids, the more you see it. Deans of students see it. Campus counseling services see it. Professors and instructors see it, at least the ones who bother to look. And the kids themselves see it, even if they don't always know what they're looking at. One rebuttal to my article by a current Yale studentmentioned, in a different connection, that roughly half of that institution’s undergraduates “access the school’s mental health and counseling services at some point," without bothering to pause over the significance of that remarkable fact.
Then there are the arguments against my claims about economic inequality on selective campuses, the fact that elite higher education acts, on the whole, to retard rather than promote social mobility. Usually these criticisms take the form of, essentially, “But I had a working-class roommate!” I’ve been hearing about this working-class roommate for six years now. But this is not a matter of conjecture. A study from 2004 (things, if anything, are likely to have gotten worse by now) found that 75 percent of freshmen at the top 100+ selective colleges come from households in the upper quarter of the income distribution, 3 percent from the bottom quarter. You had a working-class roommate, and 25 affluent friends.
It is true that about 50 percent of Ivy League students receive some form of financial aid. It's also true that most of them are affluent themselves. In 2007, Harvard capped tuition at 10 percent of income for families earning up to $180,000. Still, 40 percent of kids are continuing to pay full fare. An income of $180,000 puts you in the 94th percentile of households, which means that at least 40 percent of Harvard students come from the top 6 percent. The upper class pays full tuition; the upper middle class receives financial aid; and as for the tiny remainder, “The function of the (very few) poor people at Harvard," as Walter Benn Michaels puts it, "it is to reassure the (very many) rich people at Harvard that you can’t just buy your way into Harvard.”
Another critic pointed out that only 45 percent of kids at Yale attended private high schools—a number roughly comparable to those at similar institutions. Yes, but the proportion in the country as a whole is 8 percent. A recent study found that 100 high schools—about 0.3 percent of the nationwide total—account for 22 percent of students at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Of those hundred, all but six are private, and the ones that aren’t are located in places like Greenwich and Palo Alto.
Many of my critics are simply so far inside the system that they cannot recognize how they’ve absorbed the assumptions that it makes about itself. The Ivy League colleges, one of critic says, are "the best schools in America—and perhaps the world," and the students who go there "receive a first-rate education." But those are precisely the claims that are in question. What is a first-rate education, and do the Ivy League and its peer institutions deliver one? Are they, in fact, "the best"?
They are the most prestigious, yes. They are the wealthiest, for sure. Their research may be the finest in the world. But none of those circumstances tell you that they do a particularly good job educating undergraduates, and the last one tells you that they probably don't. Their professors are selected for their scholarship, not their pedagogy. They are actively discouraged from spending more time than necessary on teaching. Everybody in the academic profession knows this; the schools have just been very good at hiding it from families and kids.
I am myself the worst elitist, goes another argument. In fact, I not only blast our existing elite, as well as the schools that ensure its self-perpetuation, I call for the effective dismantling of the entire system through the creation (or re-creation) of free, high-quality public higher education, paid for by taxes on the wealthiest 10 percent. But the indictment appears to revolve around two charges.
First, that I'm discouraging lower-income families from aspiring to send their children to the Ivy Leagues. But if you come from a family of relatively modest means, you don't need to go to a top-10 school in order to rise. More importantly, we already know that very few of those lower-income kids are actually going to get in to an Ivy League school, whatever the mythology of meritocracy.
Second, that going to college to "build your soul" is all well and good for the privileged, but most kids have to be practical. Behind this lies a historical argument: In the 19th century, a liberal arts education was something that they gave to gentlemen. Now you have to think about getting a job. But the narrative omits a major chunk of American history—roughly, the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Central to higher education, and especially to public higher education, as it developed and expanded over those years was the notion that what once belonged to gentlemen should now belong to all.
Nor was it—or is it—an either/or situation: Either a general, liberal arts education or a specialized, vocational one; either building a soul or laying the foundation for a career. American higher education, uniquely among the world's systems, makes room for both. You major in one thing, but you get to take courses in others. The issue now is not that kids don't or at least wouldn't want to get a liberal education as well as a practical one (you'd be surprised what kids are interested in doing, if you give them a chance). The issue is that the rest of us don't want to pay for it.
That is finally what's at stake here. Are we going to reserve the benefits of a liberal education for the privileged few, or are we going to restore the promise of college as we once conceived it? When I say, at the end of my book, that the time has come to try democracy, that is what I am talking about.