In the comments to that last post, and over at OTB, there has been wondering about the kernel of truth in the "Dim White Kids" op-ed I referenced in the last post.
Let's go back in time 21 years (man, am I old) to my arrival as a freshman at Harvard. I get to world famous Harvard Yard. I say good-bye to my parents. I start to meet my classmates, many of whom become lifelong friends. As I attend my first semester or so of classes, I come to the realization that I've long misunderstood what Harvard was supposed to be about. There were many people in these classes I was taking who did not seem to have the intellectual firepower to be at the nation's most selective institution. There were several high school classmates of mine who seemed to be more qualified to be there but who weren't. I had no particular desire to stay at Harvard for the intellectual experience. I finished up in three years and went off to get my Ph.D. at MIT. That group of economics students remains the smartest bunch of people I have ever had the pleasure of associating with.
So who were these kids who failed to impress me? The kernel of truth in the Boston Globe piece is that they were not disproportionately members of any identifiable group that might be given special preference in the admissions process, by race or geographic location. The part of the op-ed that is not entirely accurate is that you cannot explain the phenomenon by simply appealing to wealth and connections. (And it may not be particularly relevant at all.) There were plenty of these students whose parents did not attend Harvard. There were plenty of them who came from families like mine--not rich enough to be active in philanthropy, but not on financial aid. Plenty of them show no particular athletic or artistic ability. In the intervening two decades, I have not gained any better insights into this mystery.