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Re: how can elite institutions check their privilege?

Posted By: Jeff Frank on October 8, 2018
Dear Brian,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my commentary. I share the concerns at the heart of this line of questioning and want to suggest additional questions as a way of getting at whether or not we should be hopeful about the education of character at elite institutions.

1. We have to wonder, really wonder, if the master’s tools can reshape the master’s house (to echo Audre Lorde). That is, some may want to give up the hope that an elite schooling can generate the will to undo privileges—that, as you note, are handsomely rewarded—in order to create spaces of learning that live up to the mission statements and educational ideals of those institutions. “America Magazine: The Jesuit Review” took Kavanaugh’s confirmation process as an opportunity to think about the ways Georgetown Preparatory was becoming a place of privilege and not one where character was educated. This relates to the thought experiment I suggest in my commentary. Will schools be worried about public concern and derision if their school culture is brought to light in a prominent way? And, will this be enough to cause them to do the hard work of changing so that their ideals and the environment students experience are more closely aligned?

2. It is hard to know how concerned elite institutions will feel, because it is still not clear what our response to the confirmation hearings was. It was certainly high-stakes and highly-polarizing, and some may have found the very discussion of Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school and college political machinations and nothing more. But, we did discuss this behavior, it is in the air. And, what are we to make of it? Let’s take Kavanaugh out of the picture and think about appropriate behavior for a high school student, especially one who will be in a powerful role in our democracy. Is the “work hard party hard” model still one we still tolerate if not admire in some way? Is locker room talk even appropriate? Again, take Kavanaugh out of the equation. Thirty years from now—and imagine someone from whichever political party you disagree with the most—would we welcome a candidate who drank too much in high school and made crude comments about women? Would we excuse this behavior in the future? The way we answer this question will influence how much—or how little—elite institutions will feel pressure to change.

Thanks again for the question. As I mention at the outset, I don’t know how we can answer this type of question unless we ask some more questions about what we are willing to tolerate in our leaders, and how we feel about the gulfs that separate our practices from our ideals.

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 how can elite institutions check their privilege? by Brian Ellerbeck on October 8, 2018
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