Elite Schools and Our Broken Societal System

/>..I asked a friend of mine, whose daughter is chosing which elite school to go to, a question: ‘We send some of our brightest and best students to apparently some of the best elite schools in the world, and when they graduate, they do nothing to fix our broken society collectively or individually. Why is this?

The law grads join a deeply unfair legal system that jails 2 million people, and has a high error rate on convicting innocent people, the economics grads join a profession that is largely delusional about how markets work/don’t work, the business grads join Wall Street and act as casino croupiers, the liberal arts grads struggle to find leverage, the medical students join a profession that kills 100,000 people a year through medical error, the political science grads join in the grid lock in DC, and so on. And few of them notice…

Why is this? Is it because none of these subjects or any others teach seeing the reality and the skills for fixing broken systems? Or do elite schools give their graduates a massive stake in the status quo? Is that what they are really about: arrogance, stasis and lack of challenge? What do we do to fix this? Or are we asleep to the problem and it is too hard….

I tend to try to think systemically (not the same as systematically) meaning looking at the context and root cause of problems, the system of which our problems are but a symptom.

Our societal ‘system’ is clearly broken and while it is easy to blame the rich, the poor, the other party, whatever; most of what we face is an historically path dependent emergent property of our past. We are how we have grown as individual and as societies. The past growth of our economy that once worked, but set in place wasteful habits that don’t work anymore. And what we teach in universities, in elite schools is to my mind no bloody use to fix the broken system. In fact it just helps cement it in place.

We need each subject, each speciality to teach ways to uncover the systemic forces in the field in question and then teach how to intervene in the system to change it, not tinker with it or manage it but change the linkages, the causal loops, the whole shebang…And we need what my friend calls ‘collaborative re-framers’…people who can create new collaborative structures to uncover and work on the systemic problems.

My friend and I are still working on this…any thoughts?

Harvard Yard: part of the systemic problem?

250px-HarvardYard

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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2 Responses to Elite Schools and Our Broken Societal System

  1. disrael says:

    Easy to blame the rich – exactly. Came to this sight because you had a good post on social dominance theory. Too simplistic to say that over hierarchy is the root of American evil and including the inability of your elite schools to do anything but make things worse?

    • @disraeli. You are right. Any single cause analysis will tend to be over simplistic. There are other causes, of course, especially lack of focus on sustainable wealth creation. But as the decadent elite take a wholly disproportionate and often unearned share of national income, I see some justice in holding them disproportionately responsible for the mess. And history of past civilizations tends to show that an elite taking a disproportionate share is one of the major causes of civilizational downfalls as in Rome, Persia, Egypt and so on. Use of military mercenaries is one other symptom.

      I suspect nothing much will change until we change the education system to teach more systemic approaches, which will no doubt show that hierarchy is but one factor in the system, but a fairly central one.

      I also posted because there is a lot of nonsense about the education system being overly liberal, while I find it overly comfortable with the status quo and the liberalism largely performative, and restricted to the liberal arts, while business schools, law schools etc are merely trade schools for the status quo and don’t teach much fundamental questioning.

      Thanks for your comment.

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