Wednesday, February 17, 2010

* The "Eli" in Elitism

Steerforth, Emily, and David at Yarmouth

The Yale "fence" and
the New Haven Green are contiguous.

My mother and brother, circa 1948.
Yale men were not allowed to date "town" girls
in my mother's youth.

Elitist Breeding Ground

I accepted the request of a Yale sophomore who has followed this blog (and my Sparring with the Yale Daily News blog) to be interviewed for an essay he is writing for class. At first I balked when he said his professor made it clear that the subject of the assigned essay should not be allowed to read the finished essay.

Apparently the professor's fear was that the student-writer would be subtly self-censored in his composing process by trying to please the person interviewed. In my case that fear is unfounded, since I enjoy criticism. It is food for thought.

I don't tolerate hate speech however, and made that clear to the editor of the Yale Daily News (see January 14th post this blog entitled "Yale Daily News removes Abusive Speech").

I agreed to the interview but said that the material could only be used for his essay if I was allowed to read it AFTER it was completed and to put it on my blog, reserving the author's copyright.

The professor assented (wise, since her students will have to write in the real world where those they interview will certainly read what is written about them) and apparently the essay will appear on February 26th.

Two areas of possible quicksand trouble me:

* The stereotype society has of those who graduate from a seminary: pious, softspoken, turning-the-other-cheek, sycophants for social tranquillity at all cost;


* The Generation Gap---can anyone under forty (fifty?) at Yale today understand what an elitist breeding ground Yale was right up to the time of "W" Bush?

When my mother was a girl living in the poor district of New Haven, Yale undergraduates (all of them MALE, of course, until 1970's) brought their manservants with them when they matriculated. The old campus had rooms set aside specifically for the valets to be close-by their young princes.

Yale students were not allowed to date "town" girls. (Steerforth and Emily?)*

The New Haven Register still had a "Society Page" (until the 1960's, I believe). Fathers still had "coming out " parties to introduce their daughters to polite society.

A Yale education was really an elaborate apprenticeship for upward mobility in society---who you "met" at Yale (not your talent or brains) could determine your career and future.

(Think Gatsby: "My beer bill at New Haven was more than that", Tom Buchanon says of Nick Carroway's $70 a month West Egg cottage rent . Nick took his meals "at the Yale Club" when in the City.)

Today, largely enhanced by Mr. Levin's tenure, Yale is an unashamedly egalitarian environment, with a dying cast of greybeard snobs from my generation, hovering off-stage,(wallets open one minute, closed the next) looking down their noses, lamenting the loss of Old Blue.

"Polite society" is a thing of the past.

"Polite people" however, still prevail.

Bravo, brava for that!

* In an ironic contortion of this elitism (perhaps premonitory of the co-ed days to come), a friend of mine's mother, who received her degree from Yale Art School around 1932, withdrew from a romance with an auto-mechanic working in her father's car dealership a block from Yale on Temple Street, because her parents thought he wasn't good enough for their daughter, the Yale student. (Think the Robert Reford version of Gatsby with the blunt line added to Daisy's role, in case the audience was too stupid to "get" the point: "Rich girls don't marry poor boys". Just change "rich" to "Yale".)

My friend's mother married a Yale man instead.(They had matching His-and-Hers-Yale-degrees hanging side-by-side in their house in the 1950's of my youth). That ended in divorce after three children were somewhat raised. She then married an artist and soon became a widow.

Determined to get it right, in her mid- fifties, she resumed the romance with the grease-monkey of her youth; they married and lived happily for many years. The rise of the great-middle-class had levelled the playing-field of elitism and classism. Her wisdom after two marriages had stiffened her resolve.

What a senseless delay.

No comments: