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Poison Ivy Leagues: Should America Look Elsewhere for Its Leaders?

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What do the disasters of George W. Bush, the Wall Street melt-down, and the poison of the Tea Party all have in common? Politicos and their puppet masters all holding sheep skins from Ivy League schools.

There are educational institutions in the Northeast that have been engaged in training generations of our national leaders longer than there has been a nation on this soil.

They are the American re-creations of the elite-generating ivies of Great Britain: Cambridge, Oxford, and Eton. Schools which, for more than six centuries, have educated the English aristocracy, and have been the gatekeepers to entry of their byzantine bureaucracy and business world.

Holding degrees from schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Pennsylvania, and the other Ivy League or Ivy-adjacent institutions, was almost a sanctification of a graduate's ability to be a top political leader, a captain of industry, and assume the highest offices of business and government.

Twenty-three U.S. Presidents have attended the power schools of the Northeast. Scores of congressmen, senators, supreme court justices and the powerful people who work under them, have a little Ivy sticking out of their suits, dresses, or robes.

The same holds true on Wall Street and in corporate America, where an Ivy League school pedigree has been the open door to the upper echelons of banks, investment brokerages, and businesses.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is a Harvard Grad. Timothy Geithner? Dartmouth. President George W. Bush? Yale and Harvard. President Obama? Harvard Law.

Financial heavyweights have Ivy roots. Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup, went to Columbia. The Koch Brothers, who bankroll the Tea Party Movement, are silver-spooners from private prep schools to M.I.T.

Blythe Masters, the woman who created Credit Default Swaps (CDS), the financial instrument that nearly unhinged the whole global financial system, is a product of the British "Ivy," Cambridge.

The Ivies, invested with the mantle of the gateway to power and wealth, can draft the cream of the crop from America's high schools. In their day, these schools have been responsible guardians of that power, turning out generations of sober and balanced leadership. What then, has poisoned the Ivies over the last two generations?

In modern times these institutions have drafted young men and women who crave that power and wealth, but they have failed miserably in teaching them the humility, humanity, and public service that temper placing such power into the hands of a few.

It is not what they learn in the classrooms that has changed. It is what the social institutions that feed these schools, and then social institutions that surround Ivy League schools do to groom these students for the social life of the powerful that seems to have gone off the rails.

From the time that most of their students enter private elementary schools, they are groomed to be the chosen. Through a fabric of school and social and charity networking, they are woven by their parents, the past generation of elites, safely into the next one.

Parents who want their children to "succeed" in life often pour their life savings and hard extra hours of labor into an education that steers their children into that success stream. A few get tapped for their exceptional abilities from the nation's poorest neighborhoods. However they arrive, once they get there, the message, from institution to institution, is largely the same.

"One day you will be the leaders of companies and governments of the free world," headmaster Christopher Berrisford would greet my class at the Harvard School (Today Harvard-Westlake School) in North Hollywood, California in his opening remarks back in the 1970s.

Sitting amongst the children of movie & TV stars, former governors, and CEOs, you could buy into the fact that you were in the flow of that kind of power. Beyond accelerated academics, they taught the nuances of self-direction, decision-making, social and political power.

That message, drilled into the heads of thousands at the high school level at the Andovers and Choates and Horace Manns, is amplified several fold by the time that those tapped from these schools "arrive" at an Ivy League college campus.

The fraternities, clubs, and secret societies at these schools push exclusivity, and develop life-long bonds of power and obligation to the groups that tap them for entry. To be exclusive, though, you have to exclude someone.

That Ivory Tower mentality, that, somehow being the Sneetch with the star on thars makes one the best Sneetch on the beach, develops a mental comfort cushion that somehow, anything that these young men and women dream up to benefit themselves financially and socially is not only deserved but socially correct to the pecking order of humanity that has put them at the well-deserved top.

Admittedly, at fraternities, sororities, and other organizations on a lot of non-ivy campuses this happens too. The difference is that they are not generationally connected into the Washington and Wall Street political and business hierarchy.

Being in the elites at Notre Dame might help one enter the upper-echelon of Michigan politics, business and society, but the trip to the real power centers of American capitalism and politics still has to be fought for.

People sold on their rightful place to power can be really scary. A joke that I heard around Harvard University's debate program one summer was that their crest, "Ve Ri Tas" meant "Crush the weak."

The word "veritas" is actually Latin for "truth."

Thus, it begins. These students, many of whom have been raised from birth to believe that their feces doesn't stink, and that their ideas all have the potential of 24K gold, move on into the business world bearing these god-like delusions.

Having an Ivy League education has not meant greatness. Washington had a surveyor's certificate. Lincoln never graduated college. Truman never finished law school, and Reagan went to tiny Eureka College in California. Apple CEO and personal computer pioneer Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College after one semester.

Our educational system has been built around an academic Ponzi scheme that established colonial academic power, and has been feeding Northeastern social and political power for generations.

All of our major social systems, from politics to sports to the arts, are still artificially invested in a handful of Northeastern cities whose only claim to such power is that Betsy Ross sewed a star in her original flag for their colony.

There are 4,352 colleges, universities, and junior colleges in the country. Many, like the University of Miami, are radically re-engineering the whole educational process to encourage spectral learning across disciplines, and develop a more dynamic human being who can address the 21st century.

A nation badly in need of good ideas to build our economy and heal our badly wounded political system needs to break its ties with the Ivy power centers which have broken down and failed us.

Harvard School's headmaster Berrisford also reminded us, lo those many years ago, that we always walked in the service of our communities, and that, with power comes social responsibility. That message has been lost upon my generation, and the next, both of which have treated these United States like their personal candy store.

Not all Ivy grads are bad. President Obama is a Harvard-trained lawyer, and did remember his obligation to serve his community. Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, in spite of his lambasting in "The Social Network" came up with the idea from the social networking he found at Harvard. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is also a Harvard man.

If President Obama wants to show real leadership, he should do more to open the doors of government, and the keepers of financial power, to people of great intellect and ability from around the rest of the country.

The worth of an educated person is not the nameplate on the door of the school, but the merit of the ideas taught to them, and how they apply them, hopefully to the benefit of society.

It would go a long way towards making people believe that "business as usual" is over.

My shiny two.