The Bottom Of The Class

Hugh Hewitt is a great friend, and was a crucial benefactor behind the launch of the Northern Alliance Radio Network.  He’s one of the five best radio talk show hosts out there.

But if he has one habit that irritates the bejeebers out of me, it’s his constant focus on “credendials” – as if an opinion, story or statement by someone with a BA in History from Northern Arizona is, in and of itself, of less veracity or value than the same one from someone who went to Harvard Law.

That someone gets out of high school and goes to an Ivy League college at 18, and then moves on to an Ivy League post-grad school (especially Law School) at age 22, tells you something.  Yes, it tells you that student is most likely pretty smart. It also tells you that at age 12 or 13, they knew they wanted to focus on getting the kind of grades and prerequisites they needed to get into the Ivy League.  That kind of focus has tradeoffs, just as does the maniacal focus one needs to become a doctor or a professional athlete or a full-time musician; someone who’s that focused on academia during junior high is trading off some other experiences that will be of use in their lives.

Some lefty critics titter about John McCain’s ranking at the Naval Academy, near the bottom of his class.  Of course, most of those critics couldn’t have gotten into the USNA in the first place – but that’s really beside the point.

Because as James Robbins notes in National Review, it’s actually a strength:

Some have suggested that McCain’s low class ranking reflects negatively on his fitness to lead the country. But there is no clear relationship between Academy class rank and leadership qualities. For example, Jimmy Carter, the only Naval Academy graduate to serve as president to date, graduated 59th out of a class of 820, so draw your own conclusions. Seventeen class anchors [people at the very rock bottom of their classes] have attained flag [admiral] rank, and many low-ranking graduates have gone on to brilliant careers. This tracks with the thesis I developed in my book Last in Their Class; the bottom of the class tends to produce a different kind of leader than the top. Those who wind up at the foot are often there by choice. They could do better if they studied, but they would rather trade class ranking for other pursuits. They tend to be the risk takers, the innovators, usually very well liked and in their own way driven. They know how to get into trouble, and more importantly how to get out of it. They also tend to have more than their share of luck.

To them, I suspect, life is a richer, more interesting place, and they are most likely better, more interesting people than they’d be if they’d spent eight years concerned only with banging out A’s.

Which is one of the things that makes ’em leaders.  Robbins notes that 17 “anchors” have gone on to serve as admirals; I’d love to see if that many valedictorians got flags.

1 thought on “The Bottom Of The Class

  1. Great Point. To get top grades you have to conform yourself to your instructors expectations. Thinking outside the box of the class room will most of the time annoy them, as you are not validating their wisdom with your ideas.

    Obama is a textbook case of this. There is nothing about his politcal persona that will rub an Ivy league prof the wrong way.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.