Societies always have an elite - but my guest today thinks we need a better one. Philosopher Jennifer Morton says we draw our leaders from too narrow a pool of institutions, especially educational ones, and that affirmative action does little or nothing to improve genuine representation. In what is at times quite a personal conversation, we discuss the ethical costs of upward mobility, animated by Jennifer’s own story of growing up in Peru before attending Princeton as first-generation student; as well as how to balance personal success against the dangers of complicity in unequal systems and institutions. She argues that less advantaged students face sharper trade-offs between different goods, and that as a society we under-value the ones related to associational life - family, friends, and hometowns. This conversation, and Jennifer’s work generally, has really shaped and challenged some of my own thinking - and I really enjoyed the conversation.
Jennifer Morton is an associate professor of philosophy, currently at UNC Chapel Hill but she will be taking up a position at the University of Pennsylvania this fall. Her work focuses on the philosophy of action, moral philosophy, philosophy of education, and political philosophy.
She is also a senior fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Ethics and Education.
More from Morton
- Read her insightful book, Moving Up without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility.
- Morton recently wrote this reflective piece on being a first-gen student and now educator: Flourishing in the Academy: Complicity and Compromise. She also published The Miseducation of the Elite which we discussed quite a bit.
- You can follow her work on twitter, @jennifermmorton, and on her website
- Joseph Fishkin’s book Bottlenecks: A New Theory of Equal Opportunity. I actually liked this book so much I ran a blog series on it over at Brookings!
- I referred to this study that shows that low college application rates for Hispanic youth can be explained in large part by their desire to stay close to home
- Morton’s approach to ethical good bundles is in some ways similar to Amartya Sen’s capability set
- Using data from The Equality of Opportunity Project, made interactive by the New York Times, here is the breakdown of economic diversity at these institutions:
- At CUNY, the median household income for students is $40,000, 15% of the students came from the top 20%, and 23% came from the bottom 20%
- At UNC Chapel Hill, the median household income is $135,000, 60% of the students come from the top 20%, and only 3.8% from the bottom 20%.
- At UPenn, the median household income is $195,500, 71% of the students come from the top 20%, and only 3.3% come from the bottom 20%.
- At Georgetown, the median household income is $229,000, 74% of the students come from the top 20%, and only 3.1% come from the bottom 20%.
- We referenced Anthony Jack’s work, including his book The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students
The Dialogues Team
Creator: Richard V. Reeves
Research: Ashleigh Maciolek
Artwork: George Vaughan Thomas
Tech Support: Cameron Hauver-Reeves
Music: "Remember" by Bencoolen (thanks for the permission, guys!)