Values and diversity in higher education

April 20, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Education

“Does Harvard pay off?” was the title of a thread a friend posted on A Small World (and re-posted on his blog) whether a higher education was worth it. The discussion didn’t lead to a full consensus, but many people from within Harvard’s community and the Ivy League answered yes for various reasons.

Based on my faithfully rewarding strategy “don’t look for blame, but take responsibility for making things better to the extent you can,” I believe a more valuable perspective than if something is worth it is what you can do to get the most out of it.

I wrote the response below, which the author of the thread asked if he could refer to.

When I started at Columbia it seemed every sentence an administrator said referred to diversity — “Columbia is the most diverse of the ivies.”

Coming from an inner-city public high school I remember wondering where all the people who weren’t white or Asian were. Having spent four years in a school that was maybe 40% white, I wondered what they meant by diversity. Most of Columbia’s non-white non-Asians came from the wealthy strata of other countries, minimizing the apparent diversity further.

Many years later, I happened to visit Boston during the Head of the Charles. After seeing many boats I came across Columbia’s and saw the only black guys in a boat that day. I thought for a moment about how Columbia had at least this element of diversity relative to the other schools there. Then I remembered my early experience at the beginning of college and realized the diversity was only within this bubble.

I went to two ivy league schools and have five degrees from them. I value my experiences there, but their values are most highly valued within their bubbles. Outside there are plenty of other values that make the world such an awesome place to be. You can go anyplace and find its values meaningful to you.

Two of the people I’ve learned most from in life would never consider Harvard or the ivy league. One went to Cooper Union undergrad, which he loved, and couldn’t stand Columbia’s MFA program, which he left after one semester, despite excelling. Another was accepted to RISD, but chose Arizona State because it was cheaper, then became a carpenter who got to be friends with the top DJs in the world. The community of MFA students I teach at Parsons School of Design couldn’t exist in the ivy league. A friend from undergrad sacrificed an almost sure shot at the NFL and maybe Olympics by going to the ivy league.

Harvard or the ivy league isn’t better or worse than any other place. The question is if you share its values. If you do, it’s great. If not, other places are better. You can say that about any place on earth.

If you know yourself and develop yourself, you’ll be able to find a place that’s the best place in the world for you.

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