Wednesday, October 05, 2005

partial credit

In a seminar I sat in on last week, one of the Harvard professors repeated a theory he had heard that the biggest difference at the margin between Harvard undergraduates and other undergraduates was in their ability to obtain partial credit. He did not explain whether this was because Harvard undergraduates give better wrong answers, or are better at offering up some complete bullshit when they don't know the answer, or are better at the war-of-attrition style argumentation that gets partial credit after initial grades are given.

Anyway, it's not like when I are walking through Harvard Yard, I look into the faces of the undergraduates and they somehow look smarter. They do look a good deal more style-conscious than what I am used to, or, less charitably, their sartorial and other choices mean they walk around with more of a air of affectation, of self-conscious-self-presentation, than what I am used to. Maybe it's in my head, or maybe it's an East Coast thing, rather than being something specifically about Harvard.

There are also seem to be more disconcertingly-too-thin undergraduate women walking around campus than the already nontrivial number I'm used to from Madison. (This is quite different from the generally lower rates of obesity around here.) Maybe it's in my head, or maybe it's an East Coast thing, but maybe it's something about the overachieving tendencies that are a crucial part at least one route into Harvard. Not only am I going to be valedictorian instead of that boyfriend-stealing Muffy McMiffin, I'm going to be thinner than her too! I don't care if I have to argue for an hour to get partial credit for that problem I missed in AP Physics, and if I have to eat nothing but part of a grapefruit for lunch every day from now until graduation!

An entirely different thing that I've noticed in my travels around Cambridge is that there seem to be many more and steeper kinds of discounts and deals available for Harvard students than what I remember from either Iowa City, Bloomington or Madison. This is one thing I've noticed as I've made my from the rural-working-class to the academic-middle-classes to opportunities at vicarious glimpses of the daily lives of current and future elites: not only do the rich have more money, but they also get all kinds of stuff for free or massive discounts as well. Because I am never anything less than 100% honest on this blog, I have to confess that I have identified myself as a "postdoctoral student" on a couple occasions to avail myself of discounts.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Check out this week's New Yorker for some insights on why (perhaps) students here may differ.

But think! How would you look and walk if you saw some guy checking you out, as you describe yourself doing?
Walk a little faster and try not to make eye-contract (perhaps)?

jeremy said...

Um, I don't think I'm engaging in any creepy ogling here, nor do I think noticing the things I report noticing requires it.

Rhymes With Scrabble said...

More confusingly, anonymous seems to be suggesting that undergraduates sense you looking at them and then use their SUPER MIND POWERS to suddenly be dressed more stylishly than they would otherwise have been. o.O

Tom Volscho said...

The Harvard students have HIGH MONEY INCOME AND WEALTH...the average/typical student there comes from a family that is ROLLING AROUND IN MONEY and have been for generations. While they probably believe they worked for that money, it was really the workers their parents employed that created the wealth they inherited.

This money and income derived from wealth buys them (at a discount of course!) nice clothes, useless bauhaus furniture, BMWs, health insurance, $3000+ laptops, steady eating at Au Bon Pon, and distance from the wretched of the earth.

Importantly, the cumulative historical advantages of wealth ownership have purchased them and their parents wonderful health insurance, high quality diets, homes in nice areas, clean drinking water. That is why they have clear smooth skin and symmetrical faces--their parents and grandparents didn't have to work with toxic chemicals, didn't have to do much bending over much at work, or lose their hearing in a factory or chopshop, could always pay the bills, and they always had health insurance.

Their "intelligence" is really just massive inheritance of CULTURAL CAPITAL. They are just as "intelligent" as community college students, except they don't work AND go to college. And the only hard labor they do is when they do a little slumming in the Peace Corps. Worst of all, deep down inside, they think they are better than many of us.

(Of course they have a couple tokens from the working class, but that is what they are--TOKEN examples to justify an unjust system).

For a view of a sister IVY LEAGUERS connection to slavery a good place to start is:

http://www.yaleslavery.org

Isaac said...

It's not that they are more style conscious than Madison undergrads, it's that they are conscious of a different style than Madison undergrads. In Madison you see lots of baseball caps and polo shirts and clingy pajama bottoms and tight shorts and too small t-shirts. Sure at Harvard you get a different look (this is based on having never been to Harvard, but attending Swarthmore and bumming around the East Coast), and it may seem more fashion and forward and dressed up. True. But they are all very conscious about self-presentation. And I don't mean in this in the trivial Erving Goffman sense (we're all self-conscious!), but in that Madison students work to look like they do (now Swarthmore students are a slovenly lot...).

Absolut said...

You are a post-graduate student. I see no problem with that assertion.

sep said...

yes, body size is highly correlated to social class. is this news? really, how many obese professors do you know? i mean, really fat not just plump or with "love handles" or bulges that spill over their belts. i mean big, fat, rolly-poly people! think about ASA, how many really fat people are there and when we do see them we assume that they are probably supporting staff or at the very least, tenured at low-ranking schools.
from a fattie,
sep

sep said...

in addition: body size is one sure fire way of projecting your cultural capital, as in tom volscho's comment.

jeremy said...

Differences in obesity rates are a separate phenomenon from differences in the rates of underweight among the non-obese. I knew I was going to be seeing less obese people at Harvard than I would be seeing in Wisconsin or, worse, back on the farm in Iowa.

sep said...

ah, but do we know that they are so separate? perhaps the higher incidence of the underweight among the non-obese is caused by or correlated with their sense of their distance from the lower classes. in other words, they react to their higher social standing (due to cultural capital) by over emphasizing their adherence to body size rules. it's always ok to be thinner than fatter. so the incidence of obesity and the incidence of being underweight are tied to the same thing - a sense of cultural capital. it's a tricky question because (as I see it) a person's chances of being obese can be partly traced to behavior and partly to genetics, n'est pas?

Anonymous said...

if excessive thinness were a status-based reaction to the obesity of lower-status others, it might be expected to occur more in persons who perceive relative closeness to the obese (and who respond to that psychological closeness by projecting the opposite body form) rather than among those who perceive greatest distance from the obese in status terms. in short, the class- insecure "middles" might show it more than the status-secure "uppers". just a thought, and not one very well thought through, to be honest.

Tom Volscho said...

Of course fatty foods are also much cheaper and many people who do real work can only afford those foods (few of us have to decide b/w food and rent from time to time).

A+ said...

Good point. You ever try to buy some raspberries at Whole Foods? Even in season, the pint thingie costs as much as like 6 economy-brand loaves of bread.