College and class stratification

One of the interesting things about the Amazon reviews for Tom Wolfe’s latest, I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS, is the way that different people interpret the accuracy with which it presents college life at Dupont, the fictional university. Typical is the criticism of one young man, who argues that everyone at his (presumably) big state university is too busy working two jobs in order to pay tuition to have much time for the sex and partying that so occupies Miss Simmons at Dupont.

Of course, this is precisely the ironic point that Wolfe is making. It is at the elite schools with the best academic reputations where the commitment to the intellectual life has been most completely destroyed. The seed planted in the Sixties, when it became fashionable to be more concerned with passing political fads than any search for the truth, has flowered and found deep root.

That Wolfe is describing a different world than the one in which some of his critics should be obvious. No one works two jobs to pay a $40,000 annual tuition. Wolfe is not criticizing every university, he is slamming the rot that is festering at the head. But if the head dies, the body will soon follow and already one can arguably get a better education at a technical school supplimented by personal study than by going to an Ivy League university.