The Great Equalizer

True learning requires neither gold nor pedigree

When I was a high school sophomore in 1956, my ambitious father accompanied me to an interview at the plush home of a Phillips Andover Academy board trustee. At the time, the school adhered to a code of “WASP Ascendancy,” breeding a ruling class where only sons of the upper social echelon need apply. I was a straight-A honor student, and my dad was highly successful in business. But we were of Italian descent and lacked blue-blood credentials to open their pearly gates.

Not much has changed except in 1973 they had to admit women, and legislation forced “need-blind admissions” so that poorer students may apply. Today, annual tuition at the exclusive prep school costs over $46,000. Its alumni have dominated Who’s Who since the 1780s. George Washington’s two nephews attended Phillips Andover, which also boasts five Nobel prize winners, numerous Emmy and Academy award winners, congressmen, former US presidents, and other dignitaries.

Phillips Andover is a feeder prep school for Yale University, which costs over $72,000 per year. The New Haven campus teems with trust-fund kids and spoiled scions of the rich and famous. Eight years at Phillips Academy and Yale University comes to a half-million dollars per student.

The American Revolution supposedly eliminated kings, lords, and class distinctions, but it’s obvious that class inheritability still thrives, intensified by an ever-widening wealth gap. Since graduating from an Ivy League college opens wide all doors, wealthy parents of unqualified children engage in corrupt competition for acceptance. Recent news of 52 parents—among them, celebrity actress Lori Laughlin—bribing college officials and hiring test-taking impostors shows their desperation.

But technology in the last 50 years has ushered in a great equalizer, envisioned by J.C.R. Licklider of MIT in his 1962 series of memos on a “Galactic Network.” In spirit, the concept was very much like the internet of today. The tech revolution may well eliminate the wealth gap and its resulting social stratification. Online students don’t need an elite pedigree to obtain admission, and, best of all, it’s much less expensive or free. Brick and mortar institutions, especially hard-hit by Covid-19, will be pressed to justify their exorbitant tuitions and tenured, highly-paid, publish-or-perish faculty.

Buckminster Fuller defined the “Knowledge Doubling Curve.” Until 1900, human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge doubled every 25 years. Human knowledge now doubles every 13 months. According to IBM, the internet will eventually lead to a doubling every 12 hours. What’s considered state-of-the-art now changes at so fast a rate that a four-year education in some STEM fields is obsolete before it’s even over. Why pay big bucks for obsolete courses? That’s a question more parents will ask.

Another twist of the knife is that many of the richest men in the world didn’t finish college. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg all did without degrees. Peter Thiel, a multibillionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist, funds a scholarship that awards talented students $100,000 if they quit college. Innovative genius cannot be taught in a classroom.

For the believer, all the above are asides on the true path to Life. The only true University, that of faith and charity, offers the highest standards of instruction and equal opportunity to those select few who dare apply. Its tuition is steep, requiring neither gold nor pedigree but clean hands and a pure heart (cf. Psalm 24:4); exceptional moral conduct; and an industrious, courageous nature. It takes unshakeable belief that we’re beloved offspring of a loving Creator who daily tutors those few who live accordingly. The Great Equalizer is God, Who alone can reveal the sacred mysteries that impart eternal life.

And the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things (John 14:26).

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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