Wednesday, May 31, 2006

To the museum! 

According to two researchers, if you want your kid to go to an elite school, grab their hands and take them to an art museum.
Of activities that take place out of school, the researchers found that participation in music or dance classes made it more likely that a student would enroll in a four-year college program, but had no correlation to whether students would end up at elite colleges. The only out-of-school activity that increased the likelihood of a student ending up enrolled at an elite college was parental visits to art museums.

Art classes and visits to public libraries (by parents or children) had no correlation to students matriculating either to colleges generally or to elite institutions.

Several activities that take place in school increased the likelihood that students would enroll at a four-year college, although not an elite college. These activities included school music groups, interscholastic team sports, and student government. Two types of participation made it more likely students would end up at elite colleges: yearbook or school newspapers and �hobby clubs.� (The authors regretted that there was no breakdown on the impact of various hobbies, so it is unclear if photography clubs do better or worse than chess or other topics.)

Numerous activities had no apparent impact on whether or not students will end up in college � elite or otherwise. School plays, interscholastic individual sports, intramurals, cheerleading, academic honor societies, public service clubs � no impact is clear from any of them.
Of course, and as the authors of the study point out, the connection is the cultural capital of the parents. Elite schools become elite by setting up screens to find other members of the elite. the extent that parents who visit art museums (even without their children) are likely to talk about high art and culture, their children (if they pay even a little attention) will pick up cultural knowledge that their peers lack. And if those parents teach their children to name drop, there could be an impact, especially if it allows students to shine in interviews.

�A chance mention of the new Bertolucci film or the Ruscha show at the Whitney may tip an applicant from one pile to another,� the authors write.
I'd call it signaling of a social network. Contra George Leef, it may be a waste to send junior to a dorm room for most classes, but getting the stamp of membership to the elite is not even if junior learns nothing.