A friend writes me that he just got a copy of the Yale Alumni Magazine and, well, listen to my friend:
The image: a clean-cut [WHITE] man in a [PIN-STRIPE] suit picking fruit from a large tree. The headline: “Reaching beyond the low-hanging fruit.” The subtitle: “Yale College seeks smart students from poor families. They’re out there—but hard to find.”
What was it that Brecht said?
Hearing the speeches that ring from your house, one laughs.
But whoever sees you, reaches for his knife.
Update (3:30 pm)
Tim Barker points out that if you go to the article itself, it has a dek that reads:
The families of Yale College students, on average, are substantially richer than the American norm. How much can the university change this? How much should it?
Next debate at the Yale Political Union: How much more money than God should Yale students have?
Update (3:45 pm)
Incidentally, if Yale is really having such a hard time finding smart kids from poor backgrounds, they should just come to one of my classrooms.
Update (January 23, 11 pm)
Much to my amazement, this story about the Yale Alumni Magazine cover has really taken off. Jon Pelto, a blogger in Connecticut, picked it up from here. And then Sara Mayeux, another blogger, picked it up from Pelto. And she alerted The Atlantic to the whole issue. In addition, Matt Bruenig blogged about it. The pressure has gotten so intense that the YAM was forced to issue a statement.
One of the claims the magazine makes in its statement is that Pelto and I “were gobsmacked by the cover but less specific about their objections.” It’s a complaint that Bruenig leveled against me as well. And it’s true. I wasn’t specific, mostly because I thought the objections were so obvious. But since apparently they are not so obvious, here’s what I said to Bruenig on his blog:
In my post, I was focused on the particular language and imagery of the cover. Yale is represented there as a human being — a white man in a pin-stripe suit no less — while poor students are represented as, alternatively, aliens or vegetation. Small wonder, then, that the dek of the piece goes onto raise the question of whether Yale even “should” strive to have more students from poor backgrounds, a question that the director of admissions seems to ultimately answer in the negative. If you see the poor as so alien and so other, you’ll probably have some ambivalence about recruiting them. Which might make the effort to recruit them more fraught and perilous than it needs to be. It was the clumsy class anxiety, and unintentionally revealing vocabulary, of it all that really caught my attention. Hence the Brecht quote.
In its response, the YAM claims that the “fruit” metaphor applies to all potential students, not just poor students.
We weren’t comparing low-income students per se to fruit, but applying the metaphor to all smart students—the low-hanging fruit being the well-off, many of whom apply to Yale and other elite colleges as a matter of course; and the hard-to-reach being the low-income, who, as the article explains, are less prone to think of the likes of Yale when they make their plans for the future.
A commenter there helpfully elaborates:
While the “low-hanging fruit” analogy was perhaps less than artful, the criticisms you quote seem rather petty. After all, you were characterizing ALL applicants as desirable vegetation — just that some are easier to spot and select than others, which is the point of the article.
I think he thinks he’s being helpful.
Anyway, one thing that has gotten lost in all this discussion is the article itself. Its author contacted me, urging me to read the piece. While Sara Mayeux, whose post I mentioned above, did in fact read the piece and offered up a critique of it, which went well beyond the cover that I focused on, I urge you all to read it for yourselves.