Education: Two Centuries of Elitism

Phi Beta Kappa still flourishes amid changing standards

It all began over a cool brew in a warm tavern. Young gentlemen at the College of William and Mary in revolutionary Virginia drew up plans for a society of good fellowship and spirited debate. (Sample topic: "Whether Polygamy is a dictate of Nature or not.") They devised a secret handshake and an initiation rite. The group, in fact, might have ended up as just one more fraternity but for a sober motto—and philosophy—based on the Greek letters ΦBK : "love of wisdom the guide of...

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