A Harvard Education - I mean, Harvard "Intellectual Attainment"
The current freshman class at Harvard College was asked to sign a pledge know as the “freshman kindness pledge” in which the final paragraph of it states:
As we begin at Harvard, we commit to upholding the values of the College and to making the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.
Seems innocent and simple enough, especially if it was purely voluntary. Turns out though that the plan was to post the pledge with signatures in each entryway, publicly displaying who was onboard and who wasn’t.
As Virginia Postrel discusses in this Bloomberg article, there’s something striking about the phrasing of “the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.” This would seem to imply that kindness is hard to come by, but the opposite seems to be true.
“I note in the current generation of undergraduates a tendency to hold back to disagreement or criticism of other students in class,” says Jeffry Frieden, a political scientist.
An unnamed humanities professor explains how “the students have an unwritten code of: ‘If you give me space to impress the teacher, I’ll give you space to impress the teacher.’” Postrel ties this into the approach towards “intellectual attainment.” By expressing one’s education in that way, it has this sense of a product that’s value is exclusively determined by a grade or other form of the professor’s approval. “Attainment isn’t learning, questioning or criticizing,” Postrel writes. “It’s getting your ticket punched.”
This isn’t meant to specifically condemn Harvard – their pledge just so happens to be on display here – but rather the attitude students might have and how easily a professor could manipulate the situation, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to impress an agenda on their pupils.