Somehow, I think this piece at The Irascible Professor bolsters my previous post a little bit. I don't think it's new, but I do think that there's a growing belief that schools don't provide an education, but an imprimatur. Go to a certain school and it's like getting a celebrity endorsement. Of course the schools are often to blame for it. There's school pride and then there's arrogance. A diploma from Harvard or Yale is nice, but it doesn't mean that you know squat about what you're talking about now. "I have the Harvard seal-of-approval, so you have to believe that everything I say has the full weight and endorsement of all of the smart people who've studied and taught there, and who will study and teach there, for all of time immemorial." Pfft. Nonsense.
Not to diminish the work that people do there, or to make it seem like anyone could get into Harvard. God knows I couldn't, even if I'd been foolish enough to try. This isn't sour grapes. It's just that it's another kind of celebrity association that people fall all over themselves to attain, like being seen in a restaurant with a movie star or getting your picture taken shaking hands with a rock star. It's somehow supposed to complete you and grant you an identity that you couldn't possibly achieve by yourself. And it's the same thing in this teacher's English classes, where competent students who would do OK in a regular (or even advanced) class would rather excel in a remedial one, because the pride of being able to say, "I got all As," is what's going to matter when you try to spin yourself into an upper tier school. I don't think anyone who's taken remedial English is going to get into Harvard, but the idea is that rather than do the necessary work and get an honest grade and a hard-earned education, it's more impressive to get the gold star for jumping over matchbooks and tout your "award winning" achievements.