I wanted to try a different format because I’ve transitioned mostly from articles to podcasts since starting work. Instead of a monthly list of some of my favorite articles, maybe a deep dive into some really great podcasts I’ve listened to recently?
Recently I listened to Revisionist History, a podcast hosted by Malcolm Gladwell. In general, what has stood out to me about this podcast compared to others is the strong stance that Gladwell takes on topics. I’m used to the kind of “here’s all the information, you decide” reporting of other podcasts, but Gladwell is clear about his positions, I first noticed this in Food fight.
He did a 3-part series on education and you better believe that I really liked it (education is everything). It’s also really hard for me to summarize them, but I’ll try—I realized I was fighting the urge to just retell everything in the podcast. If you are in a time crunch, the first one, Carlos doesn’t remember, is my favorite of the series.
Hope you enjoy!
Episode 04: Carlos doesn’t remember
Frames the discussion for the three episodes about whether capitalism really works in education by following the story of Carlos, an exceptionally bright kid in LA. While he does this, he also seamlessly weaves in really interesting research done about access to education by the poor.
Top three things that stuck out to me:
- You might remember this (I do) but about 10 years ago major universities (mostly ivy league) pledged to pay full tuition for students at the bottom of the income ladder who were smart enough to get in. However, even with this initiative these schools only ended up accepting ~15 low-income students a year. The colleges believed that they had already tapped the all the limited number of gifted low-come students and this incentive made little difference. Researches Hoxby & Avery looked into this and found that, not surprisingly, this isn’t true. There are a huge number of students doing who are testing in the 90th percentile or above that are from poor backgrounds (and just that’s those who were able to make it through high school, and pay for the tests). I could go on and on, about what they found, but you’ll enjoy it more through Gladwell’s narrative.
- Students like Carlos realize at a very young age that being good in school is their only way out. The podcast is called “Carlos doesn’t remember” because As Gladwell is interviewing Carlos, he seems to keep minimize or completely forget the traumatic things that happened to him, “I tired not to let it affect my grades too much.”
- Privilege is about the number of second chances you get. Growing up, most of us didn’t have circumstances that would make us think that going to college wouldn’t be possible. Or even finishing high school. We didn’t have to make decisions like some of these kids do.
Episode 05: Food fight
Who knew the quality of cafeteria food was a social decision? Gladwell pit the high-end restaurant quality food at Vassar college against the stereotypical lunch room blah at Bowdin College against each other as an example of all of the financial decisions a school makes are a social one that affects more than the university itself.
- Bowdin College made a conscious decision to help admit more poor students by offering financial aid. In the 2015-2016 academic year, 23% of their student population were Pell Grant (a federal grant awarded based on financial need) recipients. Bowdin admitted 14%. In order to do this, Bowdin has to reserve more in their budget for financial aid and less for things like updating facilities and fancy lunches. They count on admitting a certain number of students that can pay the entire tuition in order to continue operating.
- Those students who can afford paying full prices at a private liberal arts college are attracted to a certain quality of life that a school like Bowdin chooses not to offer in order to give access to to education to more students. However, it will only get harder to for Bowdin to compete against schools like Vassar when they continually offer more and more lucrative perks that high-income parents might want for their children.
Episode 6: My little hundred million
Gladwell talks about how modern educational philanthropy began…and what’s wrong with it now. A man named Hank Rowen became a successful business owner in his small community and ended up donating $100 million to a small university in New Jersey to help them build an engineering department. It was the largest donation since the likes of Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefellers.
- Rowen wanted to donate to this school, which was not even his alma mater (MIT), because he wanted to make the biggest impact he could. As opposed to donating it to MIT, which he already felt like was giving students the best engineering education in the country.
- This started a trend of wealthy people donating large sums of money to other universities. What could be wrong with that? Since Rowen, the vast-vast majority of large donations have been to the same wealthy universities: Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia…etc. On repeat.
- He ends with an interview with Stanford’s president where he tries to see if there would be any possibility of them using their superfluous wealth to donate to more needy schools. Short answer: no.