This article is technically a response to an earlier article in The New Republic damning Harvard et al for their admissions process, but can be read stand-alone.
So much to quote. Pinker presciently points to research implicating Harvard's admission process in Asian discrimination four years before the shoe dropped. He cites Adrian Wooldridge, who "pointed out [here in The New Republic ] two decades ago, test-based selection used to be the enlightened policy among liberals and progressives, since it can level a hereditary caste system by favoring the Jenny Cavilleris (poor and smart) over the Oliver Barretts (rich and stupid)." And the piece hits hard:
What is a higher education then?
I think we can be more specific. It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition.
On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.
I believe (and believe I can persuade you) that the more deeply a society cultivates this knowledge and mindset, the more it will flourish. The conviction that they are teachable gets me out of bed in the morning. Laying the foundations in just four years is a formidable challenge. If on top of all this, students want to build a self, they can do it on their own time.
Shared for your efforts in parsing it, not for Pinker's piece nor the piece he's responding to.
A lot of academics, in their attempts to defend academia, fall prey to the same fallacy: presuming that the merit of their credential is related to education. It's not. It's signaling.
I mean, here's Pinker:
If you're going to take a swing for the intellectual rigor of the Ivys, maybe don't launch into a hackneyed stereotype about different areas of study. Particularly when you're attempting to take down another author for his hackneyed stereotypes.
The Ivy League isn't "broken." It just isn't what Pinker thinks it's for.