From The Wall Street Journal:
Shortly after the Industrial Revolution began plucking workers from their ancestral villages and installing them in factory towns, a certain bargain was struck. The family would need to be mobile and smaller now—just mom, dad and the kids, most likely—but it would be sacrosanct, a haven in the heartless world of urban anonymity and mechanized production. If public life was to be marked by fierce competition and creative destruction, at least in the family home you would be free, safe, independent.
In “Little Platoons: A Defense of Family in a Competitive Age,” Matt Feeney outlines a troubling deviation from this bargain, a growing incursion of market forces into the haven of the family home. Mr. Feeney’s compact and compellingly argued book, which grew out of a 2016 article he wrote for the New Yorker, takes its title from Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.” There, counseling loyalty to one’s closest community, Burke writes that “to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.” Mr. Feeney suggests that our little platoons are being diverted from this function and transformed from schools of public affection to weapons of public competition.
Mr. Feeney points to several breach points. Tech gadgets isolate us and prey on the idiosyncrasies of our brains. All-consuming youth sports fashion not just soccer players but entire soccer families. In the ambitious, competitive environments that Mr. Feeney describes, year-round sports clubs and camps promise not joyful play or healthy exertion but “development” and preparation for advancement to “the next level”—where the good, choiceworthy thing is always a few hard steps away. If there is a terminus to this process, it is admission to a good college, which is, for many of the parents Mr. Feeney describes, the all-encompassing goal of child-rearing.
As a result, the most powerful and insidious interlopers in Mr. Feeney’s story turn out to be elite college-admissions officers. These distant commissars quietly communicate a vision of the 18-year-old who will be worthy of passing beneath their ivied arches, and “eager, anxious, ambitious kids,” the author tells us, upon “hearing of the latest behavioral and character traits favored by admissions people, will do their best to affect or adopt these traits.”
Admissions officers exercise increasing power to shape the lives of both the children and their families. Their preferences hold so much weight that, more than being merely instrumental, they create the “vague assumption, largely unquestioned, that a central ethical duty of American teenagers is to make themselves legible to a bureaucratic process and morally agreeable to its vain and blinkered personnel.”
A hypercompetitive marketplace like this is driven by fear, Mr. Feeney tells us, and, “if, thanks to this fear, people come to believe that a successful life requires passage through a super-selective college, and if such colleges use the leverage this gives them to require sheepish levels of agreeableness in their successful applicants, then agreeable, sheepish college students are what you’re going to get.”
. . . .
He tells us of studies showing that attending a second-tier college isn’t nearly as detrimental to one’s earning potential as most people would believe. Referring to the work of the economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger, Mr. Feeney writes that “selective colleges don’t turn kids into bigger earners. They choose the kids who are more likely to be bigger earners.” Much of what the college-admissions process does is filter the extremely talented from the very talented. If your child is one or the other, chances are their professional performance will reflect it.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)
PG will opine that, other than, perhaps, helping a recent college graduate to obtain his/her first job out of college, attending a “name” college is probably not that important for the life success of 99.99% of the populace of the United States. (PG is not inclined to associate with the .01% that are not included in his statistic following a few encounters with such people.) (Uncharacteristically, PG won’t opine on what works and doesn’t in other nations.)
PG attended a “name” college (not Ivy League) and so did Mrs. PG.
For PG, he suspects that his college may have helped him overcome a very non-commercial major to get his first job. (Although the person who decided to extend him his first job offer also asked for PG’s SAT scores, which would have been the same regardless of where he had attended college.)
After that, PG doesn’t recall ever being asked about his formal education by anyone.
It also didn’t take long for PG to encounter very intelligent and competent people who had graduated from colleges he had never heard of or who had not graduated from college at all.
And everyone knows idiots who attended “name” colleges.
PG suspects that one of the main drivers of the hypercompetitive marketplace identified in the OP is insecure parents who want to drop college names when speaking about their children. PG has known a few parents of that sort and has not observed that behavior to be terribly beneficial for their children.