Take Woodrow Wilson, for example, who said the following in an address to the New York City High School Teachers Association:
Let us go back and distinguish between the two things that we want to do; for we want to do two things in modern society. We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
If this was all you saw, this smacks of elitism. To a certain degree it's(unfortunately) quite accurate particularly once you see the full quote. Here's the larger clip of what Wilson said:
Let us go back and distinguish between the two things that we want to do; for we want to do two things in modern society. We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks. You cannot train them for both in the time that you have at your disposal.
They must make a selection, and you must make a selection. I do not mean to say that in the manual training there must not be an element of liberal training; neither am I hostile to the idea that in the liberal education there should be an element of the manual training. But what I am intent upon is that we should not confuse ourselves with regard to what we are trying to make of the pupils under our instruction. We are either trying to make liberally-educated persons out of them, or we are trying to make skillful servants of society along mechanical lines, or else we do not know what we are trying to do.
And it goes on. He's talking about the difference between trade school education and university training. Now, it's still elitist, but it's not that elitist, not on the surface. This serves a dual purpose: there's what you see on the surface, which is the primary context of separating intellectuals from the service trades. Jobs like electricians, HVAC techs, plumbers, mechanics, welders - all of these(and more) are both great and desirable; and even well paying jobs. In seeing the full quote, that can have the effect of being disarming. Don't fall for the ploy.
The second purpose of this is the ideological component. Other progressives would hear this and immediately fully understand, because they speak a different language, a loaded language. This is where reading sideways becomes important.
This is along the same lines of what Wilson stated in 1909, that "The purpose of a university should be to make a son as unlike his father as possible."
I've already gone into detail about that quote, no need to do so again here. Feel free to cut and paste whatever you want from there. But the important point is that the ideology contained in the original quote becomes much clearer when viewed together with the second quote of sons and fathers.
So, back to the original quote. Just because he is separating trades from "higher" educational pursuits, it is still quite elitist when you consider the full context of how Woodrow Wilson viewed the role of education.
He literally means separating out the "best and brightest" so that they can be fully indoctrinated progressives who will then go on to be America's dictators and rulers, or entrenched bureaucrats for life, under the disguise of being democratically elected. That's how progressives think. They talk a good game because they're master propagandists, but on substance all progressives fall short of the mark.
Make the son as unlike the father, and particularly, make the elite sons as unlike their fathers as they possibly can be. That's Wilson's goal, and both quotes go to making that point. The elite sons must be progressives. None can be left behind. There cannot be any of the best and brightest who go over to the other side. The elite sons must worship government. The elite sons must desire never ending expansive government. The elite sons must be fully agenda oriented. The best sons, the most charismatic, the most seemingly trustworthy and outwardly intelligent. All must be captured for the collective.
But you have to read sideways to the next speech in order to get the full picture from the first speech. If you only read straight down confining yourself only to the one speech, you would not have gotten the full picture of what Wilson schemed for your sons.