April 26, 2010

Insider and Outsider "A" Students

Justin Katz

As a matriculated "A" student, now a carpenter, I'm not sure I can accept P.J. O'Rourke's thesis:

America has made the mistake of letting the A student run things. It was A students who briefly took over the business world during the period of derivatives, credit swaps, and collateralized debt obligations. We're still reeling from the effects. This is why good businessmen have always adhered to the maxim: "A students work for B students." Or, as a businessman friend of mine put it, "B students work for C students—A students teach."...

Why are A students so hateful? I'm sure up at Harvard, over at the New York Times, and inside the White House they think we just envy their smarts. Maybe we are resentful clods gawking with bitter incomprehension at the intellectual magnificence of our betters. If so, why are our betters spending so much time nervously insisting that they're smarter than Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement? ...

The other objection to A students is what it takes to become one—toad-eating. A students must do what teachers and textbooks want and do it the way teachers and texts want it done. Neatness counts! A students are very busy.

At the very least, O'Rourke ought to draw a distinction between variants of the "A" student, between those who agree with their professors and those who do not. I used to write twenty to eighty page papers (many of those consisting of footnotes) when the argument that I felt intellectually obliged to make clearly conflicted with the preferences of the person doing the grading. Sort of the academic variation of the electoral maxim, "if it isn't close, they can't cheat."

Just such a paper could be written, it seems to me, on the link between political philosophy and my proposed categories of "A" students. Those who achieve high grades in spite of their status as class gadfly are not apt to prefer governments that presume to stand before and instruct the electorate on the definition of a good life and equitable distribution of resources, while those whose high marks happened to coincide with philosophical accord with the grade giver have likely learned the advantages of having somebody hovering above their peer groups dispensing rewards.

Of course, as you read this, I'm probably crouched over a century-old fir floor board, prying it straight with one hand while pounding screw-flooring nails into its tongue with the other. If only I had the time to work that into a proper metaphor...

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It is a law school maxim that "the "C" students make all of the money and the "A" students teach"".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 26, 2010 2:48 PM

A students may teach, but not in Rhode Island's elementary and secondary schools!

Posted by: John at April 26, 2010 3:56 PM

...And B students become prosecutors or judges (that's me!).

We whooped all of the A students in trial practice and moot court. Bunch of Asperger's cases if you ask me.

A students, at least in law school, have the unfortunate tendency to over-analyze and memorize minutiae at the expense of learning efficiency and real-world practical skills. I just try to work "smart" and make the jobs of everyone else around me easier. Didn't always lend itself well to those law professor "checklists," but it always results in good work evaluations.

Posted by: Dan at April 26, 2010 3:59 PM

Some people just are not students. I got a B once, because of a paper I wrote in 11th grade English class. Other than that it was D's and summer school, no college.

One of the cool things about being a Rescue Lieutenant in Providence is everybody who crosses my threshold gets an A. I don't care if they are Brown Professors, Brown students or failures at life, fresh start for everybody, from a perennial D student.

The real world is a great equalizer.

Posted by: michael at April 26, 2010 4:09 PM

Don't worry, Justin. I predict that you won't have to bang nails your whole life. Sooner or later, you will get a paying job spewing some of the same BS you do now for free. It's inevitable. Heck, look at how much Beck, Limbaugh and Palin are making being "haters".

At some point in the future, some of that will trickle down to you, and you will face a choice - follow your moral and ethical conscience, or spew out what makes the bucks.

As we see with Palin and friends, it's pretty tempting to take the money. Why work?

Posted by: Stuart at April 26, 2010 4:45 PM

Hey, don't diss P.J. He possesses something many conservatives lack - a sense of humor and irony. You'll never read a better book about how Congress works than "A Parliament of Whores."
I agree that we have too many socially and common sense-challenged A students, but we're still recovering from the effects of a C student running the country for eight years.

Posted by: rhody at April 26, 2010 7:59 PM

I think people confuse "education" and "money". Education is education. Money is money. They do not necessarily relate on a one to one basis. The ability to, for example, solve differential equations in one's head does not in itself generate income. The person who has ability with differential equations does not necessarily have to turn into a financial wolf and devour the economy with complex derivatives. Wolves are born or created out of personality,and personality has little direct relationship with intelligence.

Francis of Assisi, who called his personality "Brother Donkey", was from a wealthy merchant family, but he didn't use his intellect to accumulate money and goods. His merchant friends made more money than he did. Was he stupid?

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at April 26, 2010 9:48 PM

Stuart writes:

"Don't worry, Justin. I predict that you won't have to bang nails your whole life."

Don't go dissing nail bangers. Although I did have to wonder why 100 year old fir needed to be twisted. Usually lays pretty flat.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 26, 2010 10:17 PM