[MUSIC PLAYING] When we think of diversity
in the United States, we usually think about gender
diversity, or racial diversity. So are women represented
in institution? How many black people are in
the institution, or Latinos? How many immigrants are there? Rarely though do we
think about class. So we don’t think as much about
people’s economic backgrounds and the influence that
has on their life chances. We usually think of inequality
as happening because there’s a resource, like
access to education, and there are moats, or fences
built around that resource. So not everybody
has access to them. One of the things that we
see is that elite educational institutions, like Harvard,
have become more accessible, not less accessible. Yet they’re playing an
intimate role in how inequality is reproduced in America. Elites aren’t sort of the
big middle of the society. Instead they’re the
kind of the tiny tail. A lot of the
traditional techniques that we use to access
and analyze populations don’t work out as well when
we’re talking about the elite. How do you get access to
somebody like Bill Gates? Chances are he’s not going
to answer your survey, and this is true for
lots of elite people. So what I decided to do was
to do an ethnography, which means that instead of gathering
statistical data about elites, I would go and live with
and spend a lot of time with elites. This involved
packing up my life, moving to an elite school, and
chronicling the day to day life of this institution. The school I studied
was Saint Paul’s school. It’s a small boarding school
in Concord, New Hampshire. I also attended this school. Today it costs around
$50,000 to attend this, and it’s a high
school, so you could imagine that’s an
astronomical amount of money. When I was a student there, the
most common college students went to was Harvard. More students went to Harvard
than any other college, and the next most
common college was Yale, followed by colleges
like Brown, Stanford, most of the Ivy League. So this is a place
that really positions students for future
advantages in their lives. I said to Saint Paul’s,
I’m interested in studying the elite. And at a place like
Saint Paul’s, elite is not a bad word. It’s actually a good word. So the institution
understands itself as an elite educational
institution, meaning that it has
a responsibility to train the next
generation of leaders in ways that are
moral and responsible. So our current Secretary
of State, John Kerry, went to Saint Paul’s. He lived there with
the current director of our FBI, Robert Mueller. They also lived
with Ed Pillsbury, the heir to the
Pillsbury fortune, and Garry Trudeau,
the cartoonist, who draws Doonesbury,
which is partially named after Pillsbury. This should give you
sort of a small sense of just how central
this tiny school is to the American elite. The tools of an ethnographer
are to go into a place and understand its
day to day life. At the end of the day,
I often would go home, and I would start writing down
what happened during the day. And I do this every
day, day after day, to try and provide
a kind of account of the life of the school. These notes are
called field notes, and they serve as the basis
of data for an ethnographer. So ultimately what I
was really interested in was how students made
sense of their lives, and their lives as present
elites and future elites. And it’s important
to remember that not all of the students at elite
schools are presently elites. Some of them come from
disadvantaged backgrounds, and I was interested in
how these different groups of students experienced being
at an elite school, how they understood their place there,
because chances are they’re going to be in fairly
significant positions of power in the future. The main finding that I had from
my time at Saint Paul’s, was the student cease to think
of themselves as a class. Instead they think of
themselves as individuals who are like everyone else,
just harder working and more talented. The reason that
students are successful is because they
have real talents, and the reason that
they advance in life is a combination of this
talent and this hard work. And that idea is really
central to what students learn at a place like Saint Paul’s. Saint Paul’s represents
a broader set of institutions, or a
broader set of schools, that really mark almost
every community in America. Across all the 50 states,
there are private schools where people who come from
advantaged backgrounds are able to invest more money
in their children’s education than the average American can. By doing this, they
effectively buy advantages for their
children, and help perpetuate systems of inequality. There’s massive
public subsidies that go to supporting
elite private schools. The public subsidies
are with student loans. The subsidies are with grants,
where the universities take 62%. The subsidies
are with tax policy, where these institutions don’t
have to pay any tax on anything that they consume. And so thinking of
these institutions as private institutions
really obscures the ways in which they live
off massive public investment. The subsidies that were given
to these elite private schools, through tax
policies, we might be able to justify them if they
were providing opportunities to people who didn’t
have them before. But instead, what
we find is that these elite educational
institutions are engines of inequality. So one of the things that
we might ask ourselves is, Is this a good
spending of our resources? Is it worthwhile
giving a tax incentive to an institution that has
nearly a billion dollars in an endowment and
only 500 students. And so the way in which I think
about a private education is not so much that we should
ban elite private education, as that we should think about
the kinds of investments that could be made in
public education, such that all students in
America could have the kinds of educational opportunities
that are afforded to students at Saint Paul’s. [MUSIC PLAYING]