John Taylor Gatto: History Lesson

“We are the six percent.” The phrase decorated the jerseys of Harvard students during a football game against Yale last fall. “We are the six percent.” When I read about this in the Yale Daily News it troubled me, and it still does frankly. Harvard students will no doubt trade their shirts in for new ones that boast the latest Harvard admission percentage: 5.9% for the class entering in Fall 2012.

For those of you who feel as though the world may come to an end because the school you chose did not choose you, remember a few things. First, your education amounts to so much more than the four years that everyone expects you to spend in college. We learn every day and if you ever get to a point when you think you are not learning, then you must re-evaluate.

Mark Twain wrote the following:

I never let my schooling interfere with my education.

While I don’t advocate that students do the same, Twain never attended school past the elementary level but Oxford University granted him an honorary degree and the Scroll and Key “secret society” at that other school which often reminds everyone of its elite standing – Yale University (their t-shirts will advertise their membership among the 6.8 percent next fall) – requested that Twain honor them by joining their ranks. This all begs the question: how many of those “6%” will impact the world as much as Mark Twain, who barely got through elementary school?

Also, the obvious comes to mind when I hear about over-inflated egos and unwarranted sense of self: do you really want to be part of a group that would exaggerate Harvard’ gratuitous aggrandizement? The way in which they tout their status manifests as propaganda, considering that many colleges offer an education that equals – and even surpasses – the one which students gain at Harvard. If anything, a large group of students all dressed alike, and who look and think alike seems to appear more like indoctrination than enlightenment. Throughout life we constantly make decisions that ultimately define our boundaries and one of those choices includes choosing the people we want in our lives; one should question who they want around them as they enter adulthood.

Finally, you are not defined by where you attend college and if you think so then you do yourself a great disservice. So much experience and adversity and ethical dilemmas and mistakes and successes contribute to the person each one of us becomes that ultimately, the college we attend becomes a secondary factor that lingers in the background. Each person constructs his or her own identity; one’s college has nothing to do with one’s character. America’s true heroes heroes mustered the determination to overcome tragedy and rise up over that which intended to break them. No list of ranks or test scores or admissions rates will ever change the course of history.

John Taylor Gatto inspires with his fresh perspective on education that defies today’s hype and anxiety surrounding college admissions. Parents and students would all do well to consider his opinion as they desperately attempt to maneuver through the maze of college admissions.