Monday, October 11, 2010

Is the movie "The Social Network" GOOD for Reducing College Application Anxiety?

OK, so now I've REALLY got to see this movie!

I'm speaking of "The Social Network," the movie about which I wrote in a previous post as potentially misrepresenting both the study of innovation and of history (even though, admittedly, I haven't seen it.).  Then today, my favorite newspaper writer on the education beat, Jay Mathews of The Washington Post, had a fabulous article about how well the movie represents undergraduate life in Ivy League schools (Mathews attended Harvard, as did Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman, although I think Mathews graduated, unlike Zuckerman).

Mathew advises college-anxious parents to pay attention to what the students are talking about in the film.  According to Mathews, they talk about, ummmm, let's call it "dating," clubs, parties, technology, making contacts, making money, and so on.  What they do not talk about is their classes, their teachers, their homework, their "Dead Poet Society"-like inspiration that evokes new levels of passion for their chosen fields.

And that, according to Mathews, is the reality of undergraduate education at Ivy League-level colleges like Harvard (at least, in his personal and professional experience).  It is not a community of inspired learners who devote themselves to the pursuit of knowledge and forging new understanding of their chosen fields.  It is a community of people who excelled in high school (otherwise they wouldn't be there), but who otherwise act like undergraduates at almost all schools--caught up in new experiences, testing out living on their own, devoted to their favorite clubs, activities, or relationships....much or most of which may have little or nothing to do with their classes.

For years, Mathews has been trying to convince people that acceptance to an Ivy League or similarly competitive schools is not like obtaining a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket, of which only FIVE exist and only that will allow you in the running to run the Chocolate Factory.    The author of Harvard Schmarvard:  Getting Beyong the Ivy League to the College That Is Best for You, Mathews argues that dedicated students can find at least as good educational opportunities, and in some cases, even better ones at the lesser-known, less competitive, but more undergraduate-focused universities than at iconic institutions like Harvard.  He recommends that high school students (and their families) also read a new book, Debt-Free U:  How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents by Zac Bissonette.  This book, Mathew claims, demonstrates how someone who is truly passionate about their academics can create a superior intellectual program at a state university to what the typical student experiences at schools that will cost a quarter of a million dollars to complete (see my earlier post for more details on that subject).

Who knew that move would foment so much discussion on educational issues?  I really do feel like I have to see it now, when before the major attraction in the movie for me was seeing Justin Timberlake, whom I like, not in a cougar way, but as someone who seems like a nice guy with considerable talents (I particularly liked his duet with Al Green on "Let's Stay Together" when the 2009 Grammy show had to find a last-minute replacement for the just-incarcerated Chris Brown).

I'll let you know what I think once I've seen it myself.

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