A couple of funnies vis-a-vis "diversity" on the Supreme Court (noted all over the internet, not just by me). First of all, assuming (I do) that Elena Kagan will be confirmed, that will mean that every single justice spent time at either Harvard or Yale law (Ginsburg actually graduated from Columbia, but attended Harvard first). The three most recent appointees (Kagan, Sotomayor, and Alito) all did their undergrad at Princeton. This will be the first time ever that three women have served on the Supreme Court at the same time, but all three of them are Ivy-League liberals from New York City (as is Scalia, except, of course, for the liberal part). And the court will have 6 Roman Catholics and 3 Jews, with zero protestants. Add in the fact that President Obama, of Harvard, defeated Senator Clinton, of Yale, for the right to replace President Bush, of Yale undergrad and Harvard Business, who lost the popular vote to Senator Gore, of Harvard... I sure am glad our country values diversity!
Not that I have anything against the Ivies. Indeed, my school produces its share of Ivy-leaguers, of whom we are justifiably proud. Just to rattle off a few, two of my favorite student-athletes are graduating this month, one from Harvard, the other from Yale. Just yesterday, a former favorite accosted me in the halls on campus--he just finished his freshman year at Yale. And in this year's graduating class, we have a Harvard, an MIT (who is a Presidential Scholar), and my cross-country team captain turned down Dartmouth and Columbia in favor of the full-ride scholarship at Duke.
But let's also be honest--all of these Ivy kids (and in that group I am counting the judges and politicians) fit a certain type. One does not go to that sort of school without fitting the profile. Yes, they are demonstrably smart (although a perfect SAT does not necessarily outrank one in the 96th percentile, and a perfect GPA does not necessarily put one head-and-shoulders above the nearly-perfect). They all interview well. They all have loads of extracurricular activities, properly spread around all the major categories (every single member of the group of my own students I just rattled off has some combination of athletics, fine arts, student government, and community or school service on their resume, usually in near-ludicrous proportions). But most important, they are absolute masters at playing the game.
There's nothing wrong with playing the game, beating the system, figuring out where the proper gears and levers are. It's a major life skill. But it's not farming. On a farm, there's no cramming. On a farm, making the right connections won't get you anywhere. But in an academic setting (and later, in a legal/judicial/political setting), you're dealing with a man-made system, with rules and loopholes, with social norms and expectations. A system like that is built to be manipulated by the exceptionally bright and highly motivated. As I read the various narratives about soon-to-be-Justice Kagan, I am intrigued by the plain vanilla quality of her career. It seems that she may, once at most, as an undergraduate, have expressed a somewhat controversial opinion on paper. The horror! But she has pretty much not made a single misstep that would cause her to stumble on any rung of the ladder of success. It's almost as if she has been preparing for a smooth confirmation hearing since high school. If you know these kids, that's not surprising.
But here's the thing--these kids are the best and brightest, the hard workers, and all that. But they wind up being the movers and shakers, not just in politics, but in finance, in academics, and so forth. They wind up being the ones who write the rules--rules which reward Ivy-type kids. I find it interesting that the last US president we had who didn't get an "elite" education was Ronald Reagan (of Eureka College in Tampico, Illinois). Incidentally, he's also the last president that I can remember who picked an "interesting" nominee for the court. (Although his picks still had the "elite" cred--O'Connor was 3rd in her class at Stanford; Rehnquist was first. And Scalia is an Ivy guy). You know what I'd love to see? A Supreme Court judge who was top of his or her class at the University of South Carolina School of Law. You want a judge with symapthy for the underdog? Pick a Gamecock.