counter create hit Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life - Download Free eBook
Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

Availability: Ready to download

A groundbreaking manifesto for people searching for the kind of insight on leading, thinking, and living that elite schools should bebut arentproviding. As a professor at Yale, Bill Deresiewicz saw something that troubled him deeply. His students, some of the nations brightest minds, were adrift when it came to the big questions: how to think critically and creatively, and A groundbreaking manifesto for people searching for the kind of insight on leading, thinking, and living that elite schools should be—but aren’t—providing. As a professor at Yale, Bill Deresiewicz saw something that troubled him deeply. His students, some of the nation’s brightest minds, were adrift when it came to the big questions: how to think critically and creatively, and how to find a sense of purpose. Excellent Sheep takes a sharp look at the high-pressure conveyor belt that begins with parents and counselors who demand perfect grades and culminates in the skewed applications Deresiewicz saw firsthand as a member of Yale’s admissions committee. As schools shift focus from the humanities to "practical" subjects like economics and computer science, students are losing the ability to think in innovative ways. Deresiewicz explains how college should be a time for self-discovery, when students can establish their own values and measures of success, so they can forge their own path. He addresses parents, students, educators, and anyone who's interested in the direction of American society, featuring quotes from real students and graduates he has corresponded with over the years, candidly exposing where the system is broken and clearly presenting solutions.


Compare
Ads Banner

A groundbreaking manifesto for people searching for the kind of insight on leading, thinking, and living that elite schools should bebut arentproviding. As a professor at Yale, Bill Deresiewicz saw something that troubled him deeply. His students, some of the nations brightest minds, were adrift when it came to the big questions: how to think critically and creatively, and A groundbreaking manifesto for people searching for the kind of insight on leading, thinking, and living that elite schools should be—but aren’t—providing. As a professor at Yale, Bill Deresiewicz saw something that troubled him deeply. His students, some of the nation’s brightest minds, were adrift when it came to the big questions: how to think critically and creatively, and how to find a sense of purpose. Excellent Sheep takes a sharp look at the high-pressure conveyor belt that begins with parents and counselors who demand perfect grades and culminates in the skewed applications Deresiewicz saw firsthand as a member of Yale’s admissions committee. As schools shift focus from the humanities to "practical" subjects like economics and computer science, students are losing the ability to think in innovative ways. Deresiewicz explains how college should be a time for self-discovery, when students can establish their own values and measures of success, so they can forge their own path. He addresses parents, students, educators, and anyone who's interested in the direction of American society, featuring quotes from real students and graduates he has corresponded with over the years, candidly exposing where the system is broken and clearly presenting solutions.

30 review for Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    I still remember my first exposure to Deresiewicz. I had recently dropped out of graduate schoolfull of disgust and indignationand as a form of self-therapy I was busy reading everything I could find about the flaws of higher education. Naturally, I jumped on Deresiewiczs essay in The American Scholar: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education. It seemed to put into words so many things Id been thinking. A few days later, I was in the car with my mom and my brother (we were dropping my brother I still remember my first exposure to Deresiewicz. I had recently dropped out of graduate school—full of disgust and indignation—and as a form of self-therapy I was busy reading everything I could find about the flaws of higher education. Naturally, I jumped on Deresiewicz’s essay in The American Scholar: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education. It seemed to put into words so many things I’d been thinking. A few days later, I was in the car with my mom and my brother (we were dropping my brother off at his elite university), bitterly complaining, and at great length, about the evils of the system. My mom turned on the radio. This book is an odd jumble. While barely more than 200 pages, it attempts to be a manifesto, an exposé, a path to tranquility, a work of cultural criticism, and a philosophy of education. Needless to say the book fails to be every one of these things, but this doesn’t mean it fails to be any of them. Deresiewicz’s first section, wherein he talks about the flaws in the system, is the most successful, since it is what he knows about. In a nutshell, the problem with American higher education is that there is an enormous amount of pressure and prestige for precious little substance. Young people have more hoops than ever to jump through: if they want to go to Harvard, they must be super students. They can’t afford to stop for one moment. They need to get excellent grades, take all the toughest subjects, be leaders in extra-curriculars—at least six!—maybe found a few clubs themselves, outcompete their peers in the SAT, and in general tick off all the rights boxes. The problem, of course, is that the things that look good to the college admission office often have dubious educational value, and are most often the product of privilege as much as talent. The vignette that most stuck with me was about the “college enrichment programs” that took young people on carefully choreographed trips, so they would have some good stories for their college essays. (This is not to mention the writing assistance, sometimes bordering on ghost-writing, that the wealthy can afford.) The ironic part is that all of this stress and effort does not lead to social mobility, since the wealthy already start with such a big advantage. Each cohort of students at elite universities is disproportionally upper or upper-middle class. This is no coincidence, since universities need a sizable number of “full-freighters”—students whose parents can afford to pay the enormous tuition costs—in order to stay afloat. Even more ironic is that it doesn’t even lead to an excellent education. As the university becomes increasingly reliant on wealthy students, the students increasingly get treated like customers. The university cannot afford to fail them; it cannot even afford to make them uncomfortable, which is arguably a prerequisite to genuine learning. Grade-inflation is rampant. Universities focus on hiring a few research professors, because these professors bring more prestige. Though experts, these professors are often not especially good teachers; and besides, there aren’t very many of them. The bulk of the teaching gets done by contingent faculty, chronically underpaid, always underappreciated, who come and go, without the time or resources to teach to their potential. Instead of education, these universities focus on ranking. The problem is that the ranking is not based on quality of instruction, but on things like admission rates: the more selective, the better. It benefits elite colleges to advertise to students who have a very low chance of getting in, since if they apply and get rejected, the school looks better. The result is a system obsessed with prestige at the expense of learning. From the moment students arrive to their final graduation speech, students are praised for being the best, the brightest, the most wonderful. And yet they are enmeshed in an educational system that encourages them to put themselves into boxes for admissions, that rarely challenges their fundamental beliefs, and that leaves them with a sense of entitlement, a sense that they deserve all of the nice things their elite education will give them. So what should an education do? This brings us to part two and three of Deresiewicz’s book, which I thought were much weaker. He has a lot to say about the value of a liberal education, about self-discovery, taking risks, questioning beliefs, developing a philosophy, finding your real passion, and lots of other nice clichés. To be fair, these are clichés for a reason: in some form or another, they are the goal of a true education. Nevertheless, I didn’t find Deresiewicz’s prescriptions particularly insightful or inspiring. Finally, Deresiewicz aims his sights at society as a whole. What has this educational model done to our country, and how can we fix it? All the recent presidents, as products of "the system," come in for a good bashing—especially Barack Obama, who Deresiewicz finds to be arrogant, condescending, technocratic, while totally blind to genuine ideological differences. The book ends with a widespread, sweeping, universal condemnation of the entire upper and upper-middle class. Their time has passed, he thinks, and they must be removed from the stage of history, just as the old, aristocratic WASP class had before them. What are we to make of all this? It’s clear that the book bites off far more than it can chew. Ambition is certainly not a problem; but when ambition so far outpaces execution, it certainly is. One weakness is that this book is so personal. By his own admission, Deresiewicz—the offspring of upper-middle class, Jewish parents, a former professor at Yale—is bitter about his experience in elite education, and it shows. For many years, it seems, he was dissatisfied and unfulfilled, consumed by feelings of envy and empty accomplishment, which accounts for both the self-help and the invective. But emotion is a perilous guide. While at his best he is sardonic and witty, at his worst he is alternately whiney and preachy. His torrents of feeling often blow his vessel into strange waters—like the psychology of achievement addiction, or the dysfunction of government—where he thrashes about ineffectually. This thrashing led to some tiresome writing. He has a tendency to write in epigram after epigram—none very clever—pounding and hammering his opinions into your head, while supplying few particulars and little evidence. He makes sweeping generalizations, all written in antitheses: “Everybody is doing this, and nobody is doing that," "All of us care about this, and none of us pays attention to that,” and so on. He rarely qualifies his points, he does not address counterarguments, he does not betray even the least doubt of his righteousness and the system’s evilness. (The book's condescending title is indicative of its fervor.) If I were his writing teacher, I would tell him it needs more work. This book could really have been a long essay, focusing exclusively on the flaws of elite universities. The rest feels like self-indulgence and padding, an excuse to air his views and sell a book. But for all his shortcomings, I think that Deresiewicz is making a vital point. All of his complaints boil down to one insight: meritocracy is insidious. Now, how can this be? Isn’t meritocracy good? Isn’t is the only fair and just system? Well, there are several obvious problems. For one, what is ‘merit’? Any meritocracy must begin with some notion of worth; and this notion will always be shaped by cultural and economic pressures. You simply cannot measure the inherent ‘worth’ of a person, so you end up measuring people against some arbitrary standard—like analytical intelligence or academic pedigree—imposed by the outside. But even if we could agree on a universal measure of ‘merit’ (which is impossible), there would be no guarantee that we could measure it perfectly. Some people will be lucky, others unlucky. And even if we could agree on a standard and measure it perfectly—two impossible conditions—we are still left with the question of reward. If somebody is in the top fifth percentile, how much wealth do they ‘deserve’? This will also be arbitrary, and whatever decision will likely not satisfy everyone. So you see, first a meritocracy imposes an arbitrary standard, and then denies the existence of luck, and then distributes rewards along this standard arbitrarily. A meritocratic system is not necessarily fair—since people’s worth cannot be measured—nor is it necessarily effective—since chance will always play a role—nor is it necessarily just—since meritocratic systems can still be highly unequal. The most insidious part is that it makes people believe they deserve their rewards: the rich deserve their wealth, the poor their poverty. This is essentially what Deresiewicz is complaining about. The American elite educational system tends to reward certain qualities that are not necessarily desirable (and which are usually associated with wealthy families), and then treat this unequal distribution as justified. But when you think about it, is it really fair that educational resources and prestige be concentrated in very few, very expensive institutions, instead of distributed more evenly throughout the system? I agree with this fundamental critique. However, I am far from sure that I know how to fix it. For his part, Deresiewicz puts his faith in the old tradition of the liberal arts education. While I am naturally very sympathetic to this idea, I always ask myself: Are the liberal arts compatible with big institutions? Can a tradition predicated on free thought, on questioning authority, and on open enquiry—a tradition that is not oriented towards job skills or economic gain—be made compatible with an organization of power and wealth? Can we really expect students to pay enormous tuitions to induct them into the life of the mind? Or can we expect tax-payers to support universities that do the same? To me is seems that, in the United States, by asking our universities to be both liberal arts colleges and pre-vocational training, we are asking the impossible. The first tradition teaches us how to live, while the second teaches us how to work. The problem, it seems to me, is that in the United States we have come to identify so fully with our jobs that we can’t see the questions as separate. Deresiewicz definitely falls into this error, which he exemplifies by his endorsement of the “follow your passion” advice for a better life. As I finish, I am left with more questions than when I started. And, as cliché as that sounds, that is still the sign of a good book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kressel Housman

    As Ive said in other reviews, every time I read a book about higher education, it stirs my emotions up to such an extent that I cannot help but write an intensely personal review. Youve been warned. Here goes. If you were raised in a middle class American family, then quite likely, the main goal not just of your education but of your entire childhood was to get into a good college. As the book so brilliantly puts it, Were not teaching to the test; were living to it. A kid who gets into Harvard, As I’ve said in other reviews, every time I read a book about higher education, it stirs my emotions up to such an extent that I cannot help but write an intensely personal review. You’ve been warned. Here goes. If you were raised in a middle class American family, then quite likely, the main goal not just of your education but of your entire childhood was “to get into a good college.” As the book so brilliantly puts it, “We’re not teaching to the test; we’re living to it.” A kid who gets into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stamford earns his parents an A in child-rearing. And even if your parents didn’t feel that way, as mine didn’t, if you were placed in a “gifted” class through elementary and high school, your very identity was tied up in your academic success. You had teachers to charm and were surrounded by competitive peers. Getting accepted into the Ivy League meant the ultimate validation. Aside from this high pressure, hoop-jumping mentality, the author has another beef: how cynical Western education has become. It’s not just that the majority of students are choosing career-oriented majors; it’s that the Big Questions of Life that the humanities are meant to address are given mere lip service. Anyone who actually takes these questions seriously is considered a joke. I know that only too well because I was that joke. In high school, I was like Luna Lovegood, socially clueless and professing beliefs in things all my peers knew were ridiculous, namely Marxism and astrology. Yet I was sorted into Ravenclaw/the gifted track, so I was academically inclined. As the author would put it, I was a fool with a high IQ. Perhaps not much has changed. I was rejected from Vassar, so I chose state university instead, a so-called “public ivy.” I knew from the first week that it was a terrible fit, but when I called home crying, my mother told me to stick it out. When I failed out two and a half years later, I was a spaced-out pothead having a nervous breakdown with religious overtones, eerily similar to Franny of Franny and Zooey. Someday, I may write a memoir about it. Perhaps, like the article that gave birth to this book, it may even go viral. I can’t be the only person whose college dream turned into a nightmare. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve carried around the weight of my college failure for my entire life. It’s not just the academic failure; it’s the guilt for wasting my parents’ money and the shame of having dabbled in paths (and relationships) that are absolutely forbidden by the Torah. But this book has made me look at things differently. College, Prof. Deresiewicz argues, is really about building your soul, but as he says in another brilliant line: “It’s hard to build your soul when everyone around you is selling theirs.” When I left college, my soul was in shatters. I sought to heal it in Torah Judaism. Most secularists consider religion the ultimate “sheepiness,” but Prof. Deresiewicz observes that his religious students are often better adjusted than all the other excellent sheep who’ve been made neurotic by over-testing and competition. So perhaps I, who failed out of college in spiritual crisis, might have done things right after all. I took the Big Questions to heart. My very favorite part of the book is when Prof. Deresiewicz discusses Dorothea from Middlemarch. He’s an English professor, so the book has quite a few literary references, but Dorothea gets the most attention (or perhaps, as a George Eliot fan, she just naturally draws mine). In trying to live by the highest ideals, Dorothea chooses Casaubon. It’s a tragic mistake, and she pays dearly for it, but when she gets her second chance, she doesn’t sell out. She still chooses idealism over materialism, and because she’s older and wiser, her choice gives her a happily ever after. Dorothea, argues Prof. Deresiewicz, is an object lesson for college students. We have to live according to our ideals, fall flat on our faces, and rise back up again. Students who take time off in the middle of college, he says, are usually more mature, more dedicated to their studies, and more willing to ignore all the social B.S. when they return. That, too, is the way things went for me. But even though so much of this book rang true to my experience, I didn’t agree with everything the author had to say. His biggest inconsistency was ragging on Teach for America as a form of academic slumming. In another part of the book, he makes a call for improving conditions for teachers so that talented students will be attracted away from the well-worn career paths of finance and law. If some excellent sheep decide to share the benefits of their elite education, wouldn’t that make a start on correcting the educational inequality he decries so strongly throughout the book? It's like he's trying to inspire future teachers on one hand and then smacking them for their arrogance with the other. A more minor point I disagree with is his disparagement of “technocrats,” as though there's something wrong with problem-solving. He says that a focus on problem-solving is treating the world as though it were a giant math test. Now, it may well be that the technocratic mindset is what formed our test-centered school system, but I prefer when politicians say, “This election is about solving problems,” to, “This election is about values.” Give me a technocrat over an ideologue any day. Finally, there’s the issue of “return on investment” in college education. He understands that people think about this more and more as the cost of higher ed rises. He quoted one of his students, who, in planning her schedule chose a career-oriented course “for my parents,” and a humanities course “for me.” Prof. D. argues that since college is all about you becoming you, all your courses should be about you. I see his point, but I’ve got my own variation. I plan to use it with my own kids. “One major for love; one major for money.” Heck, if it comes to that, major for money, and minor for love. People have to be practical, says the Bachelor in Philosophy who earns her living as a secretary. I was trained to read, reflect, and write in college. It remains my favorite activity, which is why I’m so active here on Goodreads. But as much as I wish someone would pay me to write what I think, nobody does. Reading, writing, and reflecting have enriched my life in all the ways a college education is supposed to. But a little less idealism and a lot more practicality would have done me good.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John G.

    Absolutely one of the best books I've ever read about higher education, but so much more than just that. This is a dangerous little book, it really exposes some dirty secrets of the hidden American class/caste system. This is something you almost never see talked or written about, an expose of how the game is and always has been rigged to perpetuate wealth, American dream be damned. There's an element of dark humor and satire here which I loved, he's been hurt and is willing to air a lot of Absolutely one of the best books I've ever read about higher education, but so much more than just that. This is a dangerous little book, it really exposes some dirty secrets of the hidden American class/caste system. This is something you almost never see talked or written about, an expose of how the game is and always has been rigged to perpetuate wealth, American dream be damned. There's an element of dark humor and satire here which I loved, he's been hurt and is willing to air a lot of dirty laundry in this book as a privileged, but ultimately alienated insider. This is a great book for any college student and their parents to understand the real nature of academia, this was a very, very useful book in terms of career discernment and really picking the best school and major for yourself. He flat out tells you, the schools are NOT on your side and I can say having obtained two degrees and worked within higher education for over a decade, he's right on the money. Most of them don't care about students or learning at all, crazy to say, but anybody who has worked there and still has their soul can confirm what I say. This book is important too because it savages what passes for "leadership" in this country and how it has derailed our country. Yes, the rot flows from the very top in all areas be it politics, sports, medicine, education, business, religion, media, you name it. This author nails it, wasn't expecting that all. This is a wake up call for our country to reclaims its soul, we've lost it, the switch began a long, long time ago when leadership became associated with personality instead of character. We've been sold a false bill of goods, the good character of Americans has been attacked and destroyed and replaced by these self-serving, conformist, technocratic clones. Our leaders do NOT deserve our respect or cooperation anymore. Can't say enough good things about this book, finally someone else gets it!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    4.5 stars In his book Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz shows what the elite schools of the United States lack: the ability to produce free-thinking students and independent minds. He provides insight from his own experience as a student and graduate instructor at Columbia, as well as from his years teaching English at Yale. His critique blends how the current system of education reinforces class structure, how the lack of rigor at top schools prevents real learning, and how the race to get 4.5 stars In his book Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz shows what the elite schools of the United States lack: the ability to produce free-thinking students and independent minds. He provides insight from his own experience as a student and graduate instructor at Columbia, as well as from his years teaching English at Yale. His critique blends how the current system of education reinforces class structure, how the lack of rigor at top schools prevents real learning, and how the race to get into a good college obscures students' search for their true selves. The best part of Excellent Sheep stems from Deresiewicz's willingness to provide answers: he gives tangible and specific methods to improve the education system we reside within. An example of a solution: Instead of service, how about service work? That'll really give you insight into other people. How about waiting tables yourself, so you can see how hard it is, not only physically but mentally? You really aren't as smart as everyone's been telling you; you're only smarter in a certain way, and only than your peers in the propertied class. There are smart people who do not go to a prestigious college, or to any college, and often precisely for reasons of class. There are smart people who are not "smart." You've heard that there are different forms of intelligence? Now go and find it out through actual experience. Deresiewicz writes in an argumentative and insightful way. He makes sure to drive in just how bad the current education system has gotten while still tempering his criticisms with plausible solutions. He connects his commentary to the mental health of students, to parenting success and failures, and his own personal experiences. While I wish I had gotten more perspective from schools outside of Yale, Pomona, and a couple of others, Deresiewicz still presents well-balanced ideas and thoughts outside of his own. A paragraph I enjoyed about the purpose of education: We have always seen our nation as a work in progress. We are always striving to create a more perfect union. So college is indeed about more than just you. If you are going to be the leader that your education is supposedly preparing you to become, then you need to question the very terms of that education itself. Instead of worrying so much about building your resume, you need to start working on building your mind. A few takeaways from the book that I agree with: instead of giving preference to students who attend programs or trips thanks to their parents' money, reward students who survive and surpass real struggle. Base affirmative action on socioeconomic standards. Search for students who excel beyond baseline measurements of GPA, SAT score, and quantity of extra-curricular activities. Within college, allocate more attention to undergraduate teaching and engagement as opposed to research. Encourage students to delve into the humanities, subjects that require asking the big questions. Make college about creating oneself - one's values, one's way of thinking, one's worldview. Overall, a splendid work of nonfiction I would recommend to anyone associated with the education system at all: students, teachers, parents, professors, administrators, and more. We need more people thinking like Deresiewicz (e.g., thinking for themselves), and we should strive to get these changes made soon.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Berger

    Dennis slogs into my therapy office at about 5:30 in the afternoon, looking worse for the wear and tear. Hes a good looking 33-year-old guy, nattily dressed in his bespoke suit, but his face and body sags. He sits down and says, Ive done nothing to improve my lot this week. Ive had to work till two in the morning every day. I havent even been able to think about anything else. Dennis makes a lot of money working for a venture capital firm, but he hates his job. Hes got a boss who seems to know how Dennis slogs into my therapy office at about 5:30 in the afternoon, looking worse for the wear and tear. He’s a good looking 33-year-old guy, nattily dressed in his bespoke suit, but his face and body sags. He sits down and says, “I’ve done nothing to improve my lot this week. I’ve had to work till two in the morning every day. I haven’t even been able to think about anything else.” Dennis makes a lot of money working for a venture capital firm, but he hates his job. He’s got a boss who seems to know how to invest in the right company, but doesn’t know a thing about human beings. He treats Dennis like crap. Dennis has been too afraid to quit, and has no idea what he’d want to do if he did get out of his current position. “I’ve never had a passion,” he tells me, with sadness in his voice. Educated in expensive private schools, this was the track Dennis thought he was supposed to follow. He’s watched his peers travel down this same road, and though he longs for something of greater meaning, he would feel ashamed if he didn’t make as much money as his friends. He tells himself that he will focus on what he wants to do with the rest of his life on the weekends, but instead, he binge drinks. Sundays are spent recovering from a hangover. He has random hook ups with women he quickly grows bored of. He thought he’d be on his way to have a family by now, and is perplexed about why that isn’t happening. I get home late that night, myself, at 9:30 pm, to find my daughter, who is in sixth grade at an elite school in Westchester, New York, still doing her homework. She has an incredibly good attitude about this, considering she has been working for three hours. I tell her she’s done enough, and it is time to get some rest. Her eyes brim with tears. She says, “If I don’t finish my homework, my teacher will get mad at me!” She finishes up in the next fifteen minutes, and begs to be able to watch some TV on her computer before she has to go to sleep, in order to get up at 6:30 in the morning, to get ready to go to school and take a math test. For the first time, she is saying that she hates school. She complains of backaches and headaches. I’m all about standards of excellence. I hold a deep ethic about discipline and the value of hard work. Compared to the limitations of public schools, with inconsistent quality of instruction, unpredictable budgets, and teaching to the test, I know my daughter is very lucky to be in the school that she currently attends. But I feel afraid. I’ve got lots of people in my New York psychotherapy practice like Dennis. I’m certain that the people who run my children’s school, and educators in general, want the best outcomes for the kids, and think hard how to achieve these aims. However, is there something we are all missing? Are we thinking hard enough about the kinds of people we are creating by the way we are educating our children? I’ve railed about this issue to the many clients in my practice who suffer from Dennis’s syndrome, but I have felt like a voice crying alone in the wilderness until I read Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz. This the most important book I have read in many years. Deresiewicz’s book is a passionate indictment of our culture-at-large, and most pointedly at the pinnacle of our educational system, the Ivy League schools, which are supposed to represent the ideal of achievement in our culture. When he describes the kinds of people our top educational system creates, he is talking precisely about guys like Dennis. “Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose; trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea of why they are doing it.” And . . . “Look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation.” Mr. Deresiewicz believes that the system is actually working in the way it is meant to: it is creating a class of people who are more than willing to sacrifice their lives and individuality for their corporate overlords, who are excellent at doing the soul-numbing tasks required to make their bosses obscene amounts of money, and whose form of American servitude includes a very nice bonus at the end of the year. “What Wall Street has figured out,” as Ezra Klein has put it, “is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, an incredible work ethic and no idea what to do next.” Mr. Deresiewicz asserts that though this system produces an endless stream of chattel to fatten the pockets of their Wall Street bosses, it is not only bad for the health of the individual victim, but ultimately, as the history of the last six years has borne out, bad for the economy as well. That is, at least as far as the bottom 99% is concerned. Then, there is a good chance that the highest achievers become the masters of the universe. It is no mystery that the financial crisis was caused in no small measure by the amoral machinations of the financiers at the top. In an educational system that rewards the cleverest manipulator but does little to forge goodness and character, is it any wonder that the results would be, in the end, for the greatest number, ruinous? Mr. Deresiewicz’s solution is a good one, but it does seem quaint in our technocratic age: humanism. He believes that the best college education is a liberal arts one. The humanistic purpose and method of education is the realization of what is best in the individual, through a deep penetration of the greatest works that culture has wrought. This educational approach has a thread that extends from Confucius in ancient China, where studying the ancient texts of the wise was the source of the greatest pleasure; to the German idea of bildung, which asserts that the purpose of education is a self-cultivation that leads to the optimal development of the whole person leading to the greatest contribution to society as a whole; to the American ideal of the educated citizen, which is the foundation upon which true democracy is built. The fact that Mr. Deresiewicz’s solution would seem so radically passé is a measure of how far we have fallen away from the humanistic ideals that gave birth to our American civilization. Mr. Deresiewicz is a passionate writer and his strong point of view makes his book especially engaging. Of course, it is always fun to read a good argument made for a point one agrees with. I don’t want to quibble on the grounds of political correctness, but if I had any argument with his polemic it is that he does not spend enough time pointing to the long history of humanism, and how it popped up in lots of cultures other than European ones. The rest of Mr. Deresiewicz’s book is a wonderful, encouraging, inspiring rant directed at the young seeker who is about to embark on a higher education. This is a book that I will give to my children to read at the right moment. Young folks of a certain age live for ideals. What our society needs more of is that group of young idealists to let us know how we have mucked the whole thing up and who demand a better answer. And the best we oldsters can do is give them the means and encouragement to do that. This part of the book does just that. The ideal that Deresiewicz offers is to use college, not to get the best entry level position, but to figure out who you are, what you believe in, what matters to you, and how to live your very own unique, extraordinary life. Sure, one could make the argument that there are bigger problems than the ennui of the privileged classes, and the solution of taking four years to read the great works to figure out who you are is a solution that only the affluent can afford. As far as the former is concerned, all too often, though the material needs of well-off children are met, their emotional suffering knows no class distinction. Witness the young woman I worked with who was forced her whole life to sacrifice her desires, was relentlessly pressured into becoming a lawyer working eighty hours a week, and hated her life so much that she jumped out of a window. Also, this is a problem that ultimately impacts everyone. The folks who go to fancy schools tend to end up running everything, and when you’ve got a bunch of unfeeling robots with stunted souls at the top who only care about the benjamins, and little understanding and concern for the greater whole, things tend to go a bit awry. Witness income inequality, for example, or the machinations of folks like the Koch brothers who want to make sure that climate change plunges the planet into destruction. As far as the question of the solution being as elite as the problem is concerned, Deresiewicz points out that the availability of college to the few is something wrong with our culture, not with the dream. Everyone should be given a chance to go to college and learn how to be a meaningful contributor to society by being their best selves. Given the state of our politics, realizing this ideal of a universal liberal arts higher education may all seem a little too way out of reach. Maybe the forces that want to maintain the status quo are too powerful to be changed. But my guiding principle as a psychotherapist, naive though it may be, is to do what I can as an individual to buck the tide. For me, I do my little bit to change the world by helping one person at a time become true to themselves. As far as changing things is concerned, I’ll start with my own kids. I’ll do everything I can, though it may make life in my house a little noisier, to teach my kids how to think for themselves, and to do so effectively. I’ll support them in developing their power to articulate their viewpoints. I’ll give them permission to use that power. And I’ll encourage them to feel, so they can be passionate in pursuing the good and the true, as they have come to understand it. My goal is to give them the means to figure out well how they want to live their own lives, and give them my blessing in pursuing it. Along with that, I’ll take on the responsibility of questioning the system that is charged with shaping who our children become, to make sure that our schools are prioritizing the cultivation of good, happy, people, and not simply creating competent money earners. And I’ll recommend this book to any kid who is about to enter the arena of life, and wants some guidance for this great journey. And for all you parents out there? Wanna know what you can do? Start by reading this book, too. One day, I hope that my client Dennis will quit his job, and find his voice, and take on meaningful work that he loves, and forge a relationship with a partner he respects, and discover happiness in who he is. As long as I have compatriots out there like Deresiewicz, I’ll never stop fighting to make this possible for him, and for us all.

  6. 5 out of 5

    John Stein

    Worth a read, but is really a good magazine article stretched into a meandering book (that's ok, "idea" books these days are. My suggestion is read the Part 1 (Why our colleges are filled with overstressed, well trained, bland, rich kids) and Part 4 (Why these same people are doing such a crappy job of running the world). You can skip the middle :Why we need to read, why humanities matter, and why having a soul matters, and no our college system doesn't help you do that very much. (I assumed Worth a read, but is really a good magazine article stretched into a meandering book (that's ok, "idea" books these days are. My suggestion is read the Part 1 (Why our colleges are filled with overstressed, well trained, bland, rich kids) and Part 4 (Why these same people are doing such a crappy job of running the world). You can skip the middle :Why we need to read, why humanities matter, and why having a soul matters, and no our college system doesn't help you do that very much. (I assumed that was obvious). Unfortunately Mr. Deresiwicz is a better at articulating the problems than identifying solutions. That said, it is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    Full disclosure: I am going to like any book that claims that the way to a better society is for more people to become English majors. I did in fact find myself agreeing with most of Deresiewicz's critiques of elitism in higher education. The admissions process at selective universities drives a meritocracy that has already-privileged kids competing with each other from a very early age to secure an artificially scarce spot at the most presitious schools (where "prestiige" is dubiosly defined by Full disclosure: I am going to like any book that claims that the way to a better society is for more people to become English majors. I did in fact find myself agreeing with most of Deresiewicz's critiques of elitism in higher education. The admissions process at selective universities drives a meritocracy that has already-privileged kids competing with each other from a very early age to secure an artificially scarce spot at the most presitious schools (where "prestiige" is dubiosly defined by being the hardest schools to get into). Perhaps I should rather say that it is the parents who push their kids into a needless stress as they gather the credentials to make themselves competitive. The promulgation of the worldview that the only way to succeed is through cut-throat competition produces a generation of kids whose only definition of success is to get to the top, but can't say why it is worth getting there. As a professor and a mother of a child going through the college-application process right now, I wish this could all stop. It is so hard to step out of the crazy-making when that is the cultural norm. Even some kids in the small, nonselective school where I teach have themselves tied up in knots because they think they need straight As and 3 majors in order to be hireable. They are missing out on the period of exploration, growth, and self-discovery that one needs to become a full adult, and are afraid to take a course that might challenge them (they might not get an A) or pursue any outside interests. Deresiewicz gets a little ranty near the end of this book, and it is written in unremarkable prose, hence the 3 stars. However, I recommend this book for anyone who is questioning the rat race our kids participate in from pre-school to grad school. And I agree that more English majors would make the world a better place -- or at least help kids lead more meaningful lives.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    A while ago I was doing some research into the Teach for movement and that meant I had to read lots and lots (mostly journal articles and books) on how it got set up, what it was aiming to do, what it thought good teaching meant, those sorts of things. And, in terms of the last one, what it believed good teaching meant was quite simply being a leader. In fact, as this book points out, a large part of the point of the Teach for movement is to put high achieving young people into the classrooms of A while ago I was doing some research into the Teach for movement and that meant I had to read lots and lots (mostly journal articles and books) on how it got set up, what it was aiming to do, what it thought ‘good teaching’ meant, those sorts of things. And, in terms of the last one, what it believed good teaching meant was quite simply being a leader. In fact, as this book points out, a large part of the point of the Teach for movement is to put high achieving young people into the classrooms of the very poor and dispossessed so as to ‘close the education gap’ - which basically just means stuffing their students’ heads with stuff that might, just might, get them into college. Not the sort of colleges that the people teaching got into - but some form of college all the same. One of the things that was made clear was that the Teach For movement essentially think that everything that happened in education up until the start of their movement itself was basically a mistake. Most education reformers are ‘revolutionaries’ in this sense - they generally have never had any connection with teaching anyone anything, they have only ever been on the receiving end of the education process, but they know - they really know - exactly what is wrong with the 100 million or so teachers in the world and they absolutely know how to ‘fix’ them. Similarly, I’ve driven on bridges a lot in my life, and so I guess I should be able to design a perfect bridge by now - how hard can it be? For Teach for, teaching is leadership. That’s it. So, no point defining a ‘teacher’ you need, instead to define a leader. And this is the beauty of the whole game - a leader is a leader is a leader - if you can be a leader in one situation, you can be a leader in any. A leader sets big goals. A leader gets their subordinates to be inspired by those big goals. A leader breaks those goals down into bit sized chunks. And a leader measures how fast and how well chewed those chunks end up being by their subordinates. It hardly matters if you are running a classroom or running a bank - it’s all the same, it’s leadership. And so, for the types of people who have just finished Uni and are looking for a 2 year ‘giving back’ experience that will also sharpen their Resume - well, how could you go past Teach for? Some of the literature I read from within the Teach for movement referred to books that discussed leadership - so, I figured I should read those too. It was a bit of a harrowing experience for me. Too often I felt a bit like I had joined a cult. And I certainly didn’t feel like I was learning anything from these books. Then, recently, someone spotted some of the reviews I had written at this time and suggested two leadership books I might find more interesting - this is one of those. This one also discusses Teach for America - and in terms that are hardly more complimentary than I’ve been here. His criticism is that the elite students encouraged into TFA are brought there by the desire to be saviours, and that maybe what the poor kids they are teaching need isn’t saviours at all. In fact, TFA is teaching these young people to be ‘leaders’ and therefore ‘the ruling class’ - and maybe, again, that isn’t really what they need to be taught, but rather, perhaps instead, some humility and humanity might be more appropriate. A lot of this will tell you things that are fundamentally wrong with the elite colleges in the US and why, even it you are from the ruling class, sending your kids to such schools might not be the best idea for them. The bottom line being that such colleges - the Ivy League in the US, for instance - are basically cookie cutters and while it is great that they produce young people who will go on to make lots and lots of money - maybe those young people may have been better off ‘following their dreams’. Oh, I’m so conflicted with this stuff. You see, I basically did what he is proposing these young people ought to do. I studied philosophy and literature in my undergraduate degree, hardly the most utilitarian of subjects, I got a masters in teaching and never taught, and now I’ve a doctorate in education and am not totally sure that that even means (although, it has only been a couple of years, so maybe the penny is about to drop and all will be revealed - I doubt it somehow). I should have been nodding knowingly and saying, yep, your dreams, they are there to be followed, off you go, as I read this. Except, he also talks a lot about vocations - callings - what Aristotle referred to as Arete - something like the perfect thing that makes you what is the real you, your very own personal excellence. And my problem is that I don’t believe in that at all. I think people spend far too long looking for what it is that they are meant to ‘be’ - and really, you don’t ever want to become someone how is one thing. Don’t get me wrong - I love going to the symphony orchestra and watching people play instruments like they have been born holding them in their hands all their lives - but I would never want to be one of those people. Years ago, when I was studying philosophy, one of my lecturers said of Marx that he had this very strange idea of what his utopia would look like. Marx had said you could be a fisherman in the morning, a butcher later in the day, and a poet in the afternoon, and a philosopher after dinner. It doesn’t sound terribly practical, was the summary my philosophy lecturer ended on, somewhat oddly, when you think of philosophy in general. I remember smiling at how stupid Marx was at the time. But since then I’ve really come around to Marx’s side on this. Let me be lots of things, without ever being any one of those things entirely. That does sound like a kind of utopian paradise to me. And so, the overly long chapter in the middle of this book (which, as I was reading, I kept thinking, we must be closer to the end than I imagined) where the author does the whole ‘you can be who you truly ought to be’ left me much more cold than I think he might have expected it to. All the same, the problems discussed here in relation to research universities, the quality of teaching you receive in them, the fact everyone you are studying with will want to become an economist or gain an MBA - oh god, kill me now. All of that does fill me with despair and certainly does need to be said. This is a book directed at the elite by someone from the elite. The individualisation of all problems tends to be my major problem with such books - but even so, this book does pose some problems that we ought to be thinking about as we move further and further into a post-work world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    The vengeful scream of a former instructor at Yale denied tenure, he suddenly discovers that the entire education system to which he has devoted his professional life is not worth the paper on which his Ivy League degrees are printed. A ridiculously overbroad attack on "elite" education, this book ranges from parenting advice you don't want to opinions on politics, economics, religion, life philosophy, the right books to read, and of course, education. In fact, there really isn't any subject The vengeful scream of a former instructor at Yale denied tenure, he suddenly discovers that the entire education system to which he has devoted his professional life is not worth the paper on which his Ivy League degrees are printed. A ridiculously overbroad attack on "elite" education, this book ranges from parenting advice you don't want to opinions on politics, economics, religion, life philosophy, the right books to read, and of course, education. In fact, there really isn't any subject that the author is unqualified to opine on, and he's happy to tell you as much while he sorts the good from the bad (spoiler: it's all bad). Tiger Mom Amy Chua, absurd in her own way, comes in for some harsh criticism for turning her children into the very excellent sheep the author denounces. Given the author's unflattering comparison of today's elite students to the WASP elite of yesteryear, it's a short hop to wonder whether the author is really mad at all the Asians, struck in Amy Chua's image, who attend elite schools. If you've gone to college in the last 40 years, there's nothing this book will tell you that you don't already know about single minded pre professional kids, aimless kids, and kids living their parents' dreams. No, you don't have to attend an Ivy League school to be happy, and the author spends hundreds of pages to convince you to go to State U., and then settle into your dream job selling insurance and knowing in your bones how to chat with the plumber. Unfortunately, the author's own elitism and resentments (Yale prefers regular publishing rather than preternaturally talented teachers like him, don't you know) overwhelms any useful information that might otherwise be in the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Athan Tolis

    First things first, I must declare a massive bias here because I come from a most distinguished flock of excellent sheep. Eat your heart out Amy Chua, my mom and dad (George and Effie Tolis of Athens, Greece) clocked 15.5 years of Harvard tuition between their three offspring. My brother additionally spent 6 years at a lesser institution in New Haven, but has meantime somewhat redeemed himself: he teaches at Harvard these days. You have been warned, I am writing with considerable bias. On the First things first, I must declare a massive bias here because I come from a most distinguished flock of “excellent sheep.” Eat your heart out Amy Chua, my mom and dad (George and Effie Tolis of Athens, Greece) clocked 15.5 years of Harvard tuition between their three offspring. My brother additionally spent 6 years at a lesser institution in New Haven, but has meantime somewhat redeemed himself: he teaches at Harvard these days. You have been warned, I am writing with considerable bias. On the other hand, I believe I am at least as excellent a sheep as the author and thus reasonably qualified to comment. Second, I must declare that I disagree with a whole lot of what William Deresiewicz has to say, but quite perversely I totally loved the book nonetheless. The last book that made me think as hard about my system of beliefs was “The Worldly Philosophers” by Heilbronner. This book was truly cathartic for me to read. It made me look inside my soul, it made me think about my own children’s education, about meritocracy in education and about meritocracy in the world in general. The book has three very distinct parts that are spread over four chapters. It’s three books, really, but with a common theme running through them. From my angle, the most impressive was Part III, but I should probably first go over Part I. Part I is about the psychological travails of the excellent sheep. The author describes the horrible ordeal students go through in order to secure for themselves a place at the elite institutions of the Ivy League, MIT and Stanford, the hoops they must jump through, the youth they never have, the true learning that never takes place, the whole pantomime we all had to endure. Apparently it’s all gotten a lot worse recently. If the author is right it no longer starts during your Sophomore year in high school, these days you need to have it all planned out straight out of nursery. Four fake activities no longer suffice, you need ten. One wrong step and you’re out. Apparently a good 15% of all kids in America are part of this rigmarole and the psychological effects are devastating. Studies and statistics quoted in the book leave no doubt the author must be right. But I don’t see it that way. To me it sounds more like 1. the 85% who don’t play this game are not affected so we’re only talking about the kids of the pushy parents who to some extent get what they deserve (the parents, I mean) 2. the schools in question have thousands and thousands of spots, so everybody ends up somewhere good and everybody can rationalise ex post how he ended up where he should have gone (Stanford had been my first choice, but my dad refused to “pay for me to have fun in California,” so I speak from experience) 3. the kind of person who gets in, the kind of person who can ace tests (for that is the only indispensable skill), is possessed of exactly ZERO self-doubt. I’m pretty full of crap now, at age 47, but when I was 19 I genuinely thought I was God’s gift to any school that would be lucky enough for me to deign to apply to. No, really. I only applied to Harvard because Stanford did not offer early admission, that is the sole reason I bothered to apply to two schools. I think I’m much more typical than the self-mutilating students described by the author. He dedicates far too much time to the “less excellent” sheep who are not as full of themselves as I was (and still am). Well, yes, if a kid does not think (nay, know!) success is assured, this could potentially be a harrowing experience. 4. don’t believe the kids who say they got anorexic / took up drugs / cut themselves up because of the pressure of applying to college. Again from experience I can say that stuff is all about who’s boss (clearly me, not my mom, I can do as I please with my body and will carry on doing so until she drops the subject) and it happens WAY before college appears on the horizon, though it probably does happen to the same kids, because they rebel against / defy the same pushy parents who later in life want to send them to the Ivy League / MIT / Stanford. Summary of my point: Deresiewicz has the causality wrong. The relationship with the parents and the weight of the parents’ expectations is the place to go looking for the problems he describes, not the life the kids need to lead in order to ace the college application. The kids who suffer would suffer the exact same breakdowns if they went to Disneyland with their mom and dad. Acing tests and pretending to be interested in model UN is, if anything, an escape for people who can do the work. Math and science, in particular, come naturally to those who do well in those subjects. My sister aced GCA A-Level Math (the UK equivalent of AP Math) when she was 14 and her primary motivation was to prove the point that she was as good as her older brothers; it had nothing to do with her college application 4 years later and it did not cause her any grief whatsoever. She probably thought highly of her tutor and wanted to impress him, but there’s nothing wrong with that and it’s not the situation the author is describing. The bit I KNOW the author nailed is more to do with the psychology surrounding the motivations of the “excellent sheep.” He describes my personal motivations of 25 years ago fully and makes a point I had never realised about myself until I read the book (as well as another important point that I had already figured out). “Excellent sheep,” according to Deresiewicz, are motivated by exactly two things: 1. They need to be doing whatever is the hardest. Check. My Freshman week in college we were presented with a choice of three flavors of Sophomore year (naturally) calculus. In order of difficulty it was Math 21, Math 22 and Math 25. There was a test to be taken. I aced it of course and without even examining the syllabus I selected Math 25, by far the least appropriate class for me (hello Peano axioms, delta epsilon proofs, sundry modes of convergence) but the one advertised as hellish in the “Confidential Guide.” My first day there this kid walked up to the teacher at the beginning of class and said “I actually placed into Math 22, but I was told that with your permission I could still take Math 25. I’m very good at Math, I just forgot how to integrate in the placement test.” There is no moral about hubris and fall to this story; the kid was absolutely right, his name is Chris Woodward, he’s a natural and he was a tenured Math professor at Rutgers within 10 years of this incident. I, on the other hand, suffered the indignity of my first ever B+ because I’m not a genius, I was quite simply exquisitely well prepared (thanks mom and dad!) 2. “Excellent sheep” are the “the best and the brightest” and “the world is their oyster” and they attach maximum importance to keeping things that way, to making triple sure all options remain open. “Excellent Sheep” don’t only join Goldman Sachs or McKinsey consulting because it’s the toughest option for those who don’t go to Law School or Med School. The true appeal is that these choices don’t shut any doors. You could leave Goldman or McKinsey and go run the Ford Motor Company or the US Treasury or go teach yoga and that’s what it’s all about. I must confess that here the author has me TOTALLY FIGURED OUT and I never even knew it. I left it till two weeks before graduation to decide if my degree would say “Applied Mathematics” or “Engineering Sciences” or “Economics” on it. When I got off the fence from having to decide between my offer from Salomon Brothers (the hot ticket in the spring of ’91 following the publication of “Liars’ Poker” the summer of ’90 and the choice I went for) and my offer to study Applied Mechanics at Stanford, I decided “Applied Mathematics” would look best. Had I gone to Stanford to do Applied Mechanics I would have chosen “Economics” because that would have looked oh so diverse. Ah, and I lied: I did not turn down Stanford. I asked them to wait a year for me to attend. And then another year. I was a total ass and I did not even know it, basically. Thank you William Deresiewicz for imparting this bit of self-knowledge on me. I spent that crucial part of my life doing my utmost to keep options open, rather than delving into something I loved, or at least looking for something I loved. With your permission I’ll move from Part I straight to Part III and get to Part II last. Part III of the book discusses the place of meritocracy in our society, our civilization and our democracy. It’s heady stuff and comfortably the best part of the book, much as it is also the least resolved part of the book. The three parts of the book are not separate, and the main idea is planted as early as page 119 (of 242) where the author gives his working definition of what it means for a society to be civilized: it’s a society where it’s a legitimate option to be poor. I’d happily read a book five times as long and ten times as wrong if I knew it would contain such a total gem. Maybe I don’t read enough, or maybe I’m reading the wrong books, but I cannot fathom of more elegant a definition. The full text reads as follows: “We’re still a very wealthy country by any reasonable standard, which means that you’ve been presented with a rare and remarkable chance, one that’s far more precious than the opportunity to be rich: the opportunity not to be. To find your purpose and embrace your vocation, and still to live a decent life.” BANG! That hit me so hard. The author fears that we are in the midst of a massive move in the opposite direction, heading quickly toward a dystopia where we will be governed by an aristocracy formed at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. While as recently as 1985 “only” 46% of the students at the 250 most selective universities came from the top quarter of the income distribution, by 2006 we were looking at 67% and the main reason is not that college has been getting progressively more expensive (it has, of course) but that it the cost of rearing “excellent sheep,” the tutors, music lessons, private school tuition, fake activities, Stanley Kaplan etc. has been building a moat around the offspring of the ruling class. Meanwhile, the colleges don’t endeavor, according to the author, to teach as much as they aspire to act as finishing schools for the new members of the gilded class. “When Yale offers free fellowships to study in China or subsidizes a trip to New York to catch a Broadway show, it bills those luxuries as instruction in how to be broad-minded and cultured. The truth is that they are, more than anything else, instruction in how to be wealthy” he quotes a student as saying. A lot of the damage is already done. Pages 226 to 230 are in my opinion REQUIRED READING FOR ALL AMERICAN CITIZENS and I do not jest. In these short 5 pages the author tears into every single recent US President and most presidential candidates. Here’s a quote: “If Romney seems like an out-of-touch elite, consider the two Democratic nominees who preceded our current president, Al Gore and John Kerry: one each from Harvard and Yale, both earnest, decent, intelligent men, both utterly unable to communicate with the larger electorate. In fact, consider our current president – a graduate of Honolulu’s prestigious Punahou School as well as of Columbia and Harvard Law – who despite his race, his oratorical skills, and his years as a community organizer, is equally incapable of making an emotional connection with the people he calls “folks.”” The point is made that both Bushes, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama and Romney all attended Harvard or Yale, leading to the main thesis that we have abdicated government to mandarins who know how to gather credentials but know zero about the real world because they have only ever operated outside it, in the bubble defined by our only nominally meritocratic system. Speaking about Obama again, Deresciewicz homes in for the main message of this book: “He also couldn’t understand why people might object to some of his appointments –figures like Timothy Geithner or Larry Summers, both of whom were central to creating the conditions that led to the financial crisis. They’re “the best” after all; whom else would you choose to run the economy. Obama’s arrogance and that of his advisors, as ill-concealed as it has proved to be unearned, is that of the double-800 crowd. It’s as if he can’t believe that anybody might reject those commonsense solutions once he has explained them carefully enough –as if he has no conception of competing values, interests, or perspectives, no idea that society is more than just equations. With his racial identity and relatively humble background, his election has been called the triumph of meritocracy. The sad thing is that that’s exactly what it was.” (Even harsher criticism is –-justly in my view— reserved for Bill Clinton, the ultimate dog that caught the car) He does not want to finish the book on a bad note, quoting E. Digby Baltzell who once wrote “History is a graveyard of classes which have preferred caste privilege to leadership” and proposes that the way out of our predicament is to invest heavily in our state school system, thereby ensuring that “privilege cannot be handed down.” The argument is left incomplete, I actually think the author is merely observing the manifestation of our current political impasse in the space called “Education” rather than examining the root cause of today’s ills. But there can be no doubt that one of the reasons America is great is it twice in its history got ahead of all other nations in terms of imposing good, free education and it would be a fantastic idea if we had a third go now. Amazingly, Obama just announced a plan to offer free community college to all Americans, possibly heralding the third such revolution. But he would not find Deresiewicz in agreement, I don’t think. Not on the evidence of Part II of the book, at any rate. Part II of the book can be summarised as “don’t go to Harvard. Get a liberal arts education instead.” The argument is built around two axes: 1. This is your chance to discover who you are. College is your time to be selfish, ask yourself the big questions, figure out for yourself what all the big thinkers have said that is relevant to you today. If you go pursuing some kind of vocational education you will be throwing out the window your one chance to explore the accumulated knowledge of all previous generations, which is distilled in the “good books” and in literature in particular. Go ahead, ditch the pre-med curriculum, get your hands on the good books, become an English major. You’ll find out that not only will you land that coveted Goldman job / law school spot / med school spot regardless, you will actually perform better than your peers because your four year search for your soul will have equipped you better. (The author, of course says this much better than I ever could) 2. Don’t go pursuing this liberal arts education at some place that could not give a damn about teaching, go to a proper liberal arts college that will offer you attention, seminars, the appropriate size of class and other students might not be of the same calibre of your potential Harvard classmates, but they won’t be robots, they will think like you do. The teachers will be just as good as they are at Harvard because there’s a massive glut of amazingly well-educated PhDs out there and the small liberal arts college will actually force them to teach. Their peers at Harvard will actually be on the “publish or perish” treadmill and will have zero incentive to meet you, assuming you overcome the competition of the other five hundred of your classmates in the lecture hall and manage to get to them somehow. The argument is very weak. It’s so impossibly weak I really don’t know where to start, but here’s my rebuttal: 1. First let’s get the easiest bit out of the way. Suppose you want to go to med school or law school and suppose you’re sitting on a Harvard undergrad admission. You’re sitting on gold. This is probably your only chance to get into med school or law school without straight A’s. If you get a B+ average from Harvard (which, as the author alleges is not that difficult) and ace your MCATs or LSATs, that’s it. You’re in. Not so if you get a B+ average at a good liberal arts college. You’re out. And here comes the best bit. You can use the spare time afforded by the luxury of only aiming for the B+ average to shop all the English seminars, philosophy classes etc. you ever hoped to attend. And they will be taught by the same Helen Vendlers the author adulates. And you can even play “spot the guy on the treadmill” with your enlightened friends. My roommate Pete did exactly what I’m describing. He got a C in orgo, OK? He took a class about Beethoven and dared to disagree with his teacher’s main thesis in his final paper, earning himself an undeserved B+. Because he could. He had a ball. One night his Columbia girlfriend sent us her math-for-poets homework and we sat around and worked it all out from first principles and sent it back to her. We most certainly did not do our work that night, we did hers. And one day he woke up, took the train to Salem (because he’d left it till the last minute to apply), sat the MCAT cold, aced it and a few months later matriculated at Columbia Med. He’s now a prominent anaesthesiologist. With a C in orgo. HOW ABOUT THAT??? If you are the type who can ace the MCAT cold you probably aced the SAT too, you might be sitting on a Harvard admission and if you’re considering grad school you’ve got to tick that “I accept” box, beg borrow or steal the tuition and go to Harvard. Case closed. Four years of liberal arts await you, if that is your wish. 2. Second, suppose you are a genuine genius. Not a bloody-minded hard worker with the right set of parents like I was, but a proper genius. You can go become the star student somewhere else, or you can measure yourself against your true peers at Harvard. So I was there from ‘87 to ‘91. The Putnam exam is the “big deal” among math competitions between college students, look it up. Wikipedia will show you Harvard won it all 4 years I was there. From tens of colleges that compete and thousands that are eligible. What Wikipedia won’t tell you is that none of those four years did we win it with our first team. We won it with the second, third or fourth team we fielded. And that is because a good 70% of the US Math Olympic team my year (and presumably the ones above and below) matriculated in my class, with the remaining 30% spread across America. Unless I knew which exact field of Math I was looking to study and that the best faculty for that field was at a particular other college, I’d need some serious convincing to go study Math somewhere else. THAT’S JUST ONE EXAMPLE. Bottom line, if you are a genius, you would do yourself a disservice to forego the opportunity to hang out with your true peers for the sake of going to pursue some liberal arts discovery wild goose hunt. Go to the proper school and take a year off to study the good books. Or three. Nobody will care. 3. Third, suppose you want to go to college as a preamble to entering American business or politics. You genuinely cannot pass on the opportunity to make the connections you will make at an Ivy League college. They ACTIVELY RECRUIT the scions of the richest and most influential families on earth. The grill in my house was operated by the son of the CEO of Goldman OOPS, I'M ON THE DREADED WORDCOUNT --REST OF REVIEW ON AMAZON...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    The meritocracy that replaced the wasp ascendancy in the mid-twentieth century was a move in the right direction but it created a whole host of problems for elite education and for our ruling class. Opening the system to different types of people than the wonder bread of old is a good thing but a meritocracy is still not as merit-based and fair as the ideal, but aside from this what kind of values does the ostensive meritocracy instill in our ruling class. It certainly fosters competence also a The meritocracy that replaced the wasp ascendancy in the mid-twentieth century was a move in the right direction but it created a whole host of problems for elite education and for our ruling class. Opening the system to different types of people than the wonder bread of old is a good thing but a meritocracy is still not as merit-based and fair as the ideal, but aside from this what kind of values does the ostensive meritocracy instill in our ruling class. It certainly fosters competence also a competitive mindset but empathy not so much. It makes the climb up the greasy pole very strenuous and instills a feeling of accomplishment and entitlement. Our ruling class feels entitled, doesn't it? Haven't you seen their SAT and IQ scores and how hard it was for them to get where they are? Don't you think after all this hard work to make it there so don't they deserve more? a lot more, am I right? That is why as the winners feel they can reward themselves so lavishly because in adversity they suffered for the prize makes whatever spoils they claim for themselves all that deserved more wouldn't you say? Hey, you can go to Harvard and do the same. They are all about opportunity. Everybody gets a chance at the races. So the name of the game is to scramble for that title (Department Head, CEO, Senator) nevermind what you'll do once you get there. So the rule makers once in position through meritocracy will not have much empathy or understanding of people left behind. Is anyone really surprised by the spiraling inequality? The book talks about the content and curriculum as well but I find the problem of the so-called meritocracy to be the main problem.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Having just graduated from one of the elite universities that Deresiewicz mentions in this book, I am punching myself over and over again for not reading this book four years ago, when I was about to start my freshman year. Full disclosure: I am one of Deresiewicz's excellent sheep. I might come at this with a lot of bias, and I do disagree with many of his points, but I absolutely love this book nonetheless. I was scrambling to highlight every other page as I read this on my Kindle. So many of Having just graduated from one of the elite universities that Deresiewicz mentions in this book, I am punching myself over and over again for not reading this book four years ago, when I was about to start my freshman year. Full disclosure: I am one of Deresiewicz's excellent sheep. I might come at this with a lot of bias, and I do disagree with many of his points, but I absolutely love this book nonetheless. I was scrambling to highlight every other page as I read this on my Kindle. So many of his points, I have thought about throughout my college education, but my thoughts were fragmented with no real basis of support except for my own experiences and those of my immediate friends. To witness Deresiewicz turn my unstructured and at times, inconsistent, thoughts and give them substance and anecdotes that confirmed my suspicious about the failures of my education felt like immense relief. I grew up in the Bay Area, specifically in Cupertino, where 80% of the students at my high school were Asian, and everyone had their eyes set on the Ivies. Most students (and more so, their parents) all operate by the same formula - score a perfect SAT score, take as many AP tests as possible, and fill afterschool time and weekends with as many extracurriculars as possible. While we're at it, win a few science fairs and math competitions, win an art competition, and spend a few weeks of vacation performing "service" in a foreign country. This is exactly the type of student Deresiewicz talks about. My peers in high school know exactly how to "trick" the system to get an A or how to schmooze your way to leadership in an org, but very few learn to use their minds. I fell into the same trap, despite how hard I tried to escape it. I filled my time with so many extracurriculars because I was scared of boredom and being stuck in my own mind. I took as many classes and tests as I could because I was genuinely curious about learning, but no one ever taught me how to learn. High school, then college, was about the accumulation of information. Math, physics, history in high school, then "cultural capital" in college as I shopped around for classes to take that would allow me to converse with my prep school peers. Classes in philosophy because I hadn't completed in debate in high school, art history so I could become part of the "upper middle-brow," and read book summaries for my sociology classes like the Yale student the author describes because "there's a bigger social reward for being able to talk about books than for actually reading them." In my time at Harvard, I've often voiced my frustration to peers about how everyone is going into one of finance, consulting, medicine, or tech. And if not those, then delaying one of those options for a year to pursue a fully-funded fellowship or travel opportunity. Deresiewicz sums it up well: Elite students are told that they can be whatever they want, but most of them end up choosing to be one of a few very similar things... the result is a violent aversion to risk. In chapter two, as Deresiewicz delves into the history of the elite education system in America, I was suddenly struck by how thoughtfully the Harvard computer science system is designed. The value of attending a school like Harvard is that it encourages students to get a liberal arts education. While many students still major in economics to signal their interest in finance or consulting, computer science as a gateway to software engineering, or one of seven biology concentrations to fulfill premed requirements, the Harvard faculty has been careful not to overwhelm these concentration requirements. It's a shame that in computer science, many of my peers who fulfilled their 10 class requirements turned to mathematics or statistics to "gain more knowledge" and make use of their undergraduate years, but what I hope Harry Lewis and other computer science faculty were trying to encourage is for us to explore the breadth of other fields out there. When students from other schools, companies, or even pre-frosh interested in computer science criticize the dearth of practical computer science classes and lack of offerings, I've never thought that it might have been designed this way on purpose to push us towards getting the most of our liberal arts degrees. I've always understood getting an education to be the accumulation of knowledge. Which is why I scoffed at government classes that assigned more reading than was possible within a school-week, thinking that professors are overestimating their students as well as philosophy classes that made us recount Descarte's and Hume's arguments that seemed completely outdated and irrelevant. Only in this book did I realize that it was precisely these classes that were supposed to be teaching me the value of a college education, to develop "the habit of skepticism and the capacity to put it into practice." Deresiewicz hits it right in the gut: "If you find yourself to be the same person at the end of college as you were at the beginning - the same beliefs, the same values, the same desires, the same goals for the same reasons - then you did it wrong. Go back and do it again." For many of my peers, who mostly study scientific fields, here's one of the best quotes I have found regarding the value of a humanities education. "When we engage in humanistic inquiry - when we think about a poem or a sculpture or a piece of music - we ask, not how big is it, or how hot is it, or what does it consist of, but what does it mean. We ask of a scientific proposition, "Is it true?", but of a proposition in the humanities we ask, 'Is it true for me?'" Literature allows us to escape into whole universes and the lives of other characters into whom we can project our own experiences. Art gives names and concreteness to experiences. Finally, Deresiewicz tears into the American political elite, and though he wrote this before the Trump administration came into office, it may shed some light on the era of populism in the United States. "If Romney seems like an extreme example of our out-of-touch elite, consider the two Democratic nominees who preceded our current president, Al Gore and John Kerry: one each from Harvard and Yale, both earnest, decent, intelligent men, both utterly unable to communicate with the larger electorate. In fact, consider our current president... who despite his race, his oratorical skills, and his years as a community organizer, is equally incapable of making an emotional connection with the people he calls 'folks'." In the same way that we transitioned from a aristocratic elite to a meritocratic one, how can we transition from a meritocracy to (what Deresiewicz calls) a democracy?

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sunny

    6 Stars. Massive game changing book alert - Neos equivalent of the red pill he takes from Morpheus. In a nutshell the book is a scathing and at time beautifully worded vitriolic attack against some of the causes of the shite thats going on in the world at the moment. William insinuates that a lot of the worlds problems are due to the drumbeat that we have created in the west of brainless and unanalytical study in schools designed and built to ensure that the best minds (often the most 6 Stars. Massive game changing book alert - Neo’s equivalent of the red pill he takes from Morpheus. In a nutshell the book is a scathing and at time beautifully worded vitriolic attack against some of the causes of the shite that’s going on in the world at the moment. William insinuates that a lot of the world’s problems are due to the drumbeat that we have created in the west of brainless and unanalytical study in schools designed and built to ensure that the best minds (often the most privileged) get into the best secondary schools, who then go to the best colleges, who then jump into the best jobs who then control the strings that puppeteer the masquerade that the world bedazzles us with. A diablo ex machina that runs the entire play and not just the ending. I have to admit that there were tonnes and tonnes of points that I wholeheartedly agreed with. Here are some of the interesting points that William makes: • The psychosis of those gravy league graduates is terrifying. At uni, they try to fill all the time they have and come across super busy because that is what everyone else is doing and they can’t really understand why. They want to come across as well rounded but in the midst of that they lose themselves completely. They are also the same ones that will thumb through the front first and the last few chapters of the greatest books to make sure that they can at least comment on Montaigne, Nietzsche, Schweitzer and the like :) • American education at universities was founded as I believe most universities were on the premise that you would get the cross fertilization of the different minds of students from the different faculties coming together. That mixture of different topics, done even by chance, had the potential to create so many possibilities for the world and for the students that were a part of it. A shame now that most students just go to uni on the whole for the big 4 of law, medicine, finance and consulting so that once they leave they can walk into one of those 4 jobs as they pay the most (yawn). • William believed that “the cultivation of curiosity, the inculcation of character, the instilment of a sense of membership in one's community, the development of the capacity for democratic citizenship” were some of the critical characteristics fundamental to helping create a beautiful world for our children. • American universities are built on 2 different models. The English university model that prevailed before the civil war and the German model on which john Hopkins University was founded which was more scientific in its approach whereas the English model had more of a focus on the humanities and the search for more holistic forms of truth and higher questions of the mind and the soul. American universities and universities from around the world have veered towards the scientific models with more of a focus not on sciences per se but on those degrees which gives you a specific calling and lead you down a very specific career pathway. • Following on from the previous point universities nowadays train you for 3 or 4 years towards a particular career and that’s not what the principles of universities are founded on. Read the name itself “UNIVERSITY” not worldicity or landicity. Your minds are meant to open to all realms of the possibile there and not be sequestered into tiny ready made off the shelf boxes. Reminds me of that Rumi quote – “stop acting so small – you are the universe in beautiful motion.” • The fear of failure is another toxic consequence of the system we have with universities at its pivotal point. Everyone is afraid of failing and therefore hardly tries anything. Getting an A grade is everything to some students (a lot of students) and not getting that can be catastrophic for them. Have those students ever considered that it may be an A compared to their peers or some generic benchmark but how has what they have done really stand against a higher benchmark which they can set themselves? • Key point: “Do young people still have the chance, do they still give themselves the chance to experience the power that ideas have to knock you sideways into a different life?” • Key point: “We’re still a very wealthy country by any reasonable standard which means that you’ve been presented with a rare and remarkable chance, one that’s far more precious than the opportunity to be rich: the opportunity not to be; to find your purpose and embrace your vocation and still to live a decent life." • William makes an interesting point about leadership. In that often leadership is nothing more than a group of gung ho hyped up suped up followers. Far from leaders in fact. They are often the ones that reconfirm the messages and exactly the same mantra that senior leadership above them give to them to relay. Children are constantly raised in a prosocial environment in which the status quo is maintained further still. Of course – why would the system urge you to be different and think outside the system and box on the outside? Everyone is always urged to be a team player and yet look at some of the best footballers in the world – the Messis the Marradonas the Christiano Ronaldos and the original Ronaldo himself – yes they were team players but more than anything else they could change a game on their own. Little Napoleons with ball control from another planet :) • William also makes an interesting point about some of the tools that we have created to help us think we can create change. We may think that the introduction of Facebook, iPhones, farmers markets sustainable agriculture, WhatsApp twitter etc has meant that we are more armed than ever to stand on the shoulders of giants and crush the evil in the world or that we have like Archimedes have been given our place now to move the world, but really? – The Iraq wars still happened, Israeli still happens, embarrassingly stupid anti Islamism still takes place. We’re drowning in data and don’t know what straws to clutch at. William sums it all up brilliantly when he says that “While the creative class is busy playing with its toys the world is circling the drain.”

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    The first part of the book was thoroughly depressing. Part 2 leads you to believe there is hope - particularly if your child is someone that actually likes and desires and education. Part 3 is unrealistic - but probably the only possible solution. I see much of what is going on in college also happening in high school - particularly the grade inflation, excessive extra curricular activities with no real purpose (other than to build a resume) and lack of coherence in the curriculum. No one seems The first part of the book was thoroughly depressing. Part 2 leads you to believe there is hope - particularly if your child is someone that actually likes and desires and education. Part 3 is unrealistic - but probably the only possible solution. I see much of what is going on in college also happening in high school - particularly the grade inflation, excessive extra curricular activities with no real purpose (other than to build a resume) and lack of coherence in the curriculum. No one seems to have thought at all about how an education should hold together. How are the different parts connected to make a whole that is more than just the sum of the parts. The problems extend down well past the Ivies.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    The rating reflects my distaste for the subjects of the book, not its execution. Deresiewicz defends liberal arts education in a cogent manner. The final section of the book could be ready profitably on its own. The content's not surprising to anyone who's been following the discussion of the value of a liberal arts education in a STEM obsessed world: critical thinking is more important than specialization, the great books are great books for a reason (and Deresiewicz doesn't confuse that with The rating reflects my distaste for the subjects of the book, not its execution. Deresiewicz defends liberal arts education in a cogent manner. The final section of the book could be ready profitably on its own. The content's not surprising to anyone who's been following the discussion of the value of a liberal arts education in a STEM obsessed world: critical thinking is more important than specialization, the great books are great books for a reason (and Deresiewicz doesn't confuse that with the neo-conservative defense of a white male canon). So why the two stars? As the book's title indicates (so I can't say I wasn't warned), its primary concern is with the very very privileged students who attend the very top tier (according to US News anyway) of educational institutions. By which he means Harvard, Yale and Princeton, with a nod or two towards Stanford. At times, he extends the focus to include the other Ivies and a few of the east coast liberal arts schools like Williams and Amherst. It's a hermetic world in many ways. Deresiewicz understands that very well. He knows that the students who get into those places have been trained for it from the cradle; he's clear on how little real "merit" has to do with anything--his discussion of legacy admissions and athletics renders the notion of merit as empty as it actually is. (He's also clear on the fact that the vaunted "diversity" the top tier schools pride themselves on is a joke--it basically means that the sons and daughters of the wealthiest 5% of white folks now go to school with sons and daughters of the wealthiest 5% of non-white folks. Poor whites, never mind poor blacks and Latins and Natives and Southeast Asians, need not apply. Not surprisingly, the students who have run the railroad track feel empty, spiritually and intellectually. (They're not the only ones in their generation of course, but they feel like they've been lied to whereas for a whole bunch of students at Wisconsin where I teach--itself becoming increasingly monochromatic in class terms--it's not big surprise. And for students at UW-Whitewater or IUPUI, to cite two of thousands, it's simply a given.) Well, I guess I feel some sympathy for them, but by the time I finished this book, I didn't want to read another word about their plight, probably ever. And while Deresiewicz analysis of the problem is cogent, his suggestion on what to do amounts to "the elite schools have to change and the society as a whole has to invest in education." Not a useful word about how that might happen.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Wilson

    As diagnosis, this book is outstanding. Elite education for America's elite has become a vast exercise in getting our high-achieving students all dressed up for the ball, and then never actually hiring a band for the event. Superbly equipped for just about anything, except knowledge of what an education is for, these incarnate high SAT scores on stilts wander aimlessly around the Ivy League campuses, not quite sure what they are there for. This book really is a stunning indictment of the status As diagnosis, this book is outstanding. Elite education for America's elite has become a vast exercise in getting our high-achieving students all dressed up for the ball, and then never actually hiring a band for the event. Superbly equipped for just about anything, except knowledge of what an education is for, these incarnate high SAT scores on stilts wander aimlessly around the Ivy League campuses, not quite sure what they are there for. This book really is a stunning indictment of the status quo. At the same time, there is more to an education than getting to ask and discuss the big questions. If we are going to conceive of the liberal arts as a time for asking answerless questions, which is okay provided the non-answers are to the big questions, then bright sophomores are going to figure that out in ten minutes, and go to law school. If nobody knows what we are here for, including the English majors, then we might as well go to law school. We don't know a lot, but it seems that life in a fog might be a little better if I had some money.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This is a classic magazine-article-as-book; you could read just the first and fourth sections, or his original essay and get better than the gist of it, but I still didn't mind reading the longer version since it's short and he's a lively writer. The main idea is that admission to the Ivy League and a handful of other schools (e.g. Stanford, Williams) has become so competitive that their students have become overachieving, risk-averse, purposeless automatons who go from elite high schools This is a classic magazine-article-as-book; you could read just the first and fourth sections, or his original essay and get better than the gist of it, but I still didn't mind reading the longer version since it's short and he's a lively writer. The main idea is that admission to the Ivy League and a handful of other schools (e.g. Stanford, Williams) has become so competitive that their students have become overachieving, risk-averse, purposeless automatons who go from elite high schools through the Ivies to consulting or banking jobs without pausing to smell the roses or consider how they might serve society. As I've mentioned before, I went to Yale, but I hardly recognized the world of this book. That must be partly because I graduated a good long time ago, but I also think the author's not putting nearly enough blame on the parents rather than the schools. Yale students may be more preprofessional than they used to be but they still don't have preprofessional majors, at least, not official ones. If you're going to be narrowly ambitious for certain types of careers, you have to bring that yourself. I had friends whose parents had Big Plans for them but I don't recall any adult, family member or professor, suggesting that I was at university for any purpose other than to, you know, read and be clever and look at paintings and stuff and I'm pretty sure you could still do that today if you were committed enough to being weird and dreamy. I don't think the author spells out what I see as the main problem clearly enough. It used to be that you could go to a school like Yale and it was your ticket to being in the top 10% of society (by wealth or income) and that was good enough for anybody. Now you get into an Ivy and you have to keep struggling through school to get into the right profession and be part of the top 0.1%. There is so much status anxiety and insecurity in today's society that the merely rich are using the schools as venues to battle over who gets to be the new ultrarich. Deresiewicz mocks the young sheep for thinking there's nothing between Harvard and the gutter, but the trend is toward that being more true, so I can see why today's parents are worried about their kids' future. The book also has a very cogent explanation of how the different traditions of the English college and the German research university chafe against each other in American higher education today. Still, I would recommend it only if you are a prospective Ivy League student or parent. It's ultimately pretty inside-baseball.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    First, I will preface this review by saying, I'm not the target audience for this book. Here's my problem with this book. The author has some strong opinions, and that is what this book is....pages of opinions. Which is fine, as long as you're not passing it off as factual or as long as you are not slamming other people. (This book did both of those things...many times.) It was hard to get into this, with all the ax grinding going on. The author is so anti ivy league, it was becoming quite First, I will preface this review by saying, I'm not the target audience for this book. Here's my problem with this book. The author has some strong opinions, and that is what this book is....pages of opinions. Which is fine, as long as you're not passing it off as factual or as long as you are not slamming other people. (This book did both of those things...many times.) It was hard to get into this, with all the ax grinding going on. The author is so anti ivy league, it was becoming quite comical. The target audience is probably college kids who have ivy league schools in their grasp, which is such a small target audience. If these kids are seeking to get in, and are really as misguided and tightly wound as the author says, I will just say that this book will not help them. They would need years of therapy. There was just so much generalizations used to add weight to his opinions. That just doesn't work for me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jafar

    This is a meandering book. There are parts where Deresiewicz has good points and he makes them with great and forceful writing. These are the parts where he shows how self-serving the country's elite have become. And then there are parts where he sounds just like the elite that he's berating, many times showing the same tunneled vision that he accuses them of. He seems to have contempt for giving consideration to earning a living while choosing one's education field. Sorry, but not everyone has This is a meandering book. There are parts where Deresiewicz has good points and he makes them with great and forceful writing. These are the parts where he shows how self-serving the country's elite have become. And then there are parts where he sounds just like the elite that he's berating, many times showing the same tunneled vision that he accuses them of. He seems to have contempt for giving consideration to earning a living while choosing one's education field. Sorry, but not everyone has the privilege of being high-minded. Some of his advice is good and comes from a fresh perspective, and some of it is just tried old clichés that only sound good. "You know the thing you wish you could do, instead of what you're doing now? Just do that thing." Right. Just like Deresiewicz himself. He didn't like being a Yale professor. So he quit to become a writer and a literary critic. If you belong to the other 99% of the population and are unable to "follow your dream," Deresiewicz will hold his nose high at you. This is a great book if you're a high-achiever student at Yale or Harvard, you come from a wealthy and enlightened family, you're stressed out by the demands of a resume-building education, and you don't even like going into finance or consulting. Then, yes, by all means, quit Yale and go to a good liberal arts college.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    In some ways, William Deresiewicz seems like a throwback: He wants to restore the virtues and resources of liberal arts teaching in colleges throughout the country, and he spends the first part of his book castigating the system America has developed for pressuring top students to pass test after test to get themselves into one of the elite schools and then their lack of real exploration and learning once they are there. He is in some ways a child of Alan Bloom, but he does not advocate for a In some ways, William Deresiewicz seems like a throwback: He wants to restore the virtues and resources of liberal arts teaching in colleges throughout the country, and he spends the first part of his book castigating the system America has developed for pressuring top students to pass test after test to get themselves into one of the elite schools and then their lack of real exploration and learning once they are there. He is in some ways a child of Alan Bloom, but he does not advocate for a great books canon or a complete return to traditional ways. Yet he believes that something critical has been lost in developing our lopsided, achievement-obsessed elite-favoring track toward higher education. It is really in his last chapter, though, when he suggests his ways for reforming the situation, that he takes the gloves off. And while in some ways he seems a straight liberal -- more taxes for better public schools and universities and for highly paid tenure track teachers for undergraduates -- he actually spares no one. In condemning the kind and quality of people that the nation's elite schools have produced, the former Yale professor takes a scythe to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. To wit: "As for his predecessor (Bush), that apotheosis of entitled mediocrity, he is another perfect product of the system we’ve evolved to train our leaders. Entitled mediocrity was indeed the operating principle of his entire administration, but as the last dozen years or more have demonstrated on a daily basis, it is now the operating principle of our leadership class as a whole." And Obama: "The great exemplar of the technocrat, however, is not the hapless Dukakis, a high-IQ moron if there ever was one, but our current president himself. His book was called The Audacity of Hope, but only his ambition is audacious. A centrist, a pragmatist, a seeker of consensus: he plays it safe, like every other product of the system. He seeks to wear the mantle of the visionary, but his vision is technocracy itself — those 'common sense' solutions that he always likes to talk about. If politics is the art of the possible, Obama’s failure as a leader is precisely his conception of what is possible, his meek acceptance of the limits of the status quo." His argument is that elite schools are either producing entitled legacy grads who can't think their way out of a paper bag, or very bright, driven grads who have no broader notion of how to live a good life or help others to do so. While you may not agree with all his points, there is no doubt that Deresiewicz's jeremiad skewers many necessary targets. It's well worth the read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Hester

    I loved Deresiewicz's book on Jane Austen. It felt like drinking tea with a friend, talking about what really matters in life. This book is different. It is angry and occasionally strident. In many ways, there is nothing new in this book. As long as there has been an educational system, there have been people more interested in credentialism than in learning. It even comes up in "Pride and Prejudice," when they discuss what it means to be "accomplished." Deresiewicz described this aspect of the I loved Deresiewicz's book on Jane Austen. It felt like drinking tea with a friend, talking about what really matters in life. This book is different. It is angry and occasionally strident. In many ways, there is nothing new in this book. As long as there has been an educational system, there have been people more interested in credentialism than in learning. It even comes up in "Pride and Prejudice," when they discuss what it means to be "accomplished." Deresiewicz described this aspect of the human condition neatly, with phrases like "accomplishment addiction." I especially enjoy his argument on how status hunger is worse than greed, and how young people are often financially un(der)compensated for their labor, offered status instead. He frequently quotes "The Drama of the Gifted Child," and I feel that his manifesto is of more use to the "Gifted Child" audience than Miller's very flawed classic. His quote of Levine that "perfectionism is a desperate attempt to stave off criticism" is so very true. Right now, however, we have a (subset) of a generation mired in debt because college is so expensive. The author ties this debt to the current concept of a meritocracy, to a national crisis in leadership. One of my favorite passages in when he says the phenomenon of twenty-somethings living at home is economic karma, since their parents' generation voted to cut education funding. I also appreciated his line "the way things go at this point, being treated fairly is itself a form of privilege," and his expansion on the thought. The best parts of this book are philosophical: what and how should one cultivate the self, and the role a liberal arts education (including math and the sciences!) can play to build a soul. The worst are when he becomes caustic and contemptuous of people. I did not understand why he thought a month traveling around Italy studying the Renaissance was, by definition, trivial. It sounded like it could be a life changing experience. I also think he is off the mark when he says the president is a technocrat unable to take risks. Like it or not, the ACA was a big risk and he is still paying the price. Just because you don't like someone doesn't mean s/he is a coward. I also think he can be a little harsh on the educated classes. I started reading the book on a flight from DC to San Francisco. On the way back from the bathroom, I saw someone reading medieval history, another gentleman reading Proust, and a third doing math for fun (I asked). His criticisms can be dead on, but we need to acknowledge that we do have plenty of life-long learners. On a side note, this book would be an excellent introduction for foreigners to understand America's upper & upper-middle classes.

  22. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is not just a criticism of elite education, but a stinging indictment of elitism in general, and everything stemming from it. By elite the author doesnt mean pointy-headed academics or liberals, but the upper echelons of our society and all cohort of people who went to selective colleges and are now running society for their own exclusive benefit. He begins by taking aim at people who slander a liberal arts education and who believe that college is a place for professional occupation This is not just a criticism of elite education, but a stinging indictment of elitism in general, and everything stemming from it. By “elite” the author doesn’t mean pointy-headed academics or liberals, but the upper echelons of our society and all cohort of people who went to selective colleges and are now running society for their own exclusive benefit. He begins by taking aim at people who slander a liberal arts education and who believe that college is a place for professional occupation training. As he says, “Life is more than a job, jobs are more than a paycheck, and a country is more that its wealth,” and goes on to warn that “Anyone who tells you that the sole purpose of education is the acquisition of negotiable skills is attempting to reduce you to a productive employee at work, a gullible consumer in the market, and a docile subject of the state.” Further, he finds that elite colleges are a club that seeks to aggrandize itself and that its efforts to diversify are not genuine. “The function of the very few poor people at Harvard is to reassure the very many rich people at Harvard that you can’t just buy your way into Harvard.” This unabashed spanking of the privileged class might sound like a lot of whining, but—for me anyway—it was actually richly delicious. The writing is so fluid and articulate, and the punches so well placed, that I found myself cheering him on, like I was watching a prize fight. But he isn’t spanking children. He saves his hardest punches for our leadership. He chides Obama with, “His book is called ‘The Audacity of Hope’, but only his ambition is audacious. A centrist, a pragmatist, a seeker of consensus, he plays it safe like every other product of the system.” For George W. Bush, he calls him “apotheosis of entitled mediocrity.” But irrespective of the sparing and clever wordsmithing, there is some real and powerful messages in this book. Toward the end of the book he speaks of how David Brooks says that our system doesn’t reward “cantankerous intellectual bomb throwers”, but that such is exactly who we should start rewarding. And he’s right. The first start should be for many to read Excellent Sheep and hear what this bomb thrower has to say. The most ironic thing about this book is that the author is a professor at none other than Yale.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Beth Kakuma-Depew

    He's very worried about Millennial young people. Are they more stressed than other young collage-aged kids? Are the Upper class and Upper middle class young adults at risk...some how? I don't know these people, being a lower middle class Midwesterner. I feel like this is a scare book for the 1%, or maybe East Coasters who aspire to the 1%. I had hoped for more social insight, but this is not a compilation of hard research and data. Basically he got a lot of letters from worried students, and He's very worried about Millennial young people. Are they more stressed than other young collage-aged kids? Are the Upper class and Upper middle class young adults at risk...some how? I don't know these people, being a lower middle class Midwesterner. I feel like this is a scare book for the 1%, or maybe East Coasters who aspire to the 1%. I had hoped for more social insight, but this is not a compilation of hard research and data. Basically he got a lot of letters from worried students, and compiled their complaints. I think a meaningful life is to find work you love and get paid a living wage for that. But less and less Millennials are able to find that -- but THAT subject is relegated to Economics. Does he touch on the precariousness of job security? I don't know, I didn't read that far.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Once, we dreamed of eradicating poverty, winning the Cold War, reaching the moon, ensuring racial justice, creating a more equitable society. Nowwhat? [...] So much freedom. So much wealth and power. Such technological sophistication. But in the end, to what end? I don't know, boy. You tell me. “Once, we dreamed of eradicating poverty, winning the Cold War, reaching the moon, ensuring racial justice, creating a more equitable society. Now—what? [...] So much freedom. So much wealth and power. Such technological sophistication. But in the end, to what end?” I don't know, boy. You tell me.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    In Excellent Sheep, Deresiewicz makes a claim that "If you grow up with less, you are much better able to deal with having less. That is itself a kind of freedom." He is speaking about choosing a "lesser" college to attend or a shunning a major centered around wealth, but the implication is clear. "Yale snubbed me, and I am still doing fine, so I know what it is like to do without what you want! Students do not need to attend a good university or pursue a money-making major! Ignore my family of In Excellent Sheep, Deresiewicz makes a claim that "If you grow up with less, you are much better able to deal with having less. That is itself a kind of freedom." He is speaking about choosing a "lesser" college to attend or a shunning a major centered around wealth, but the implication is clear. "Yale snubbed me, and I am still doing fine, so I know what it is like to do without what you want! Students do not need to attend a good university or pursue a money-making major! Ignore my family of Ivy League grads!" Deresiewicz is the elite he claims to despise, even if he attempts to make the case that the humanities are for everyone. This defense of liberal arts, of course, is spoken by a man who has no idea about anything outside of the upper class and is so beyond normal society that he has no idea how to have a conservation with his plumber. The sort of elitist condescension where only university graduates can tell Americans what it is really like to live a "good life" is one we are all tired of hearing. While critiquing the system of elite education that creates "excellent sheep" instead of well-rounded human beings, Deresiewicz makes sure the reader never forgets that he went to Columbia and attended elite institutions throughout his education. Why? Outside of the obvious reasons (his insecurity), he tells the story of how he was denied tenure by Yale after ten years teaching at the college. Had he been granted tenure in 2008, one wonders about the existence of this book. It seems that for ten years, he did not have much of a problem with the assembly line education of elite colleges and was happy to be a cog in that machine. Did Deresiewicz have a change of heart after being fired? Possibly. Likely? Probably not. The criticisms of the upper class are all things we have heard before. "They are overbearing!" "They push their children too hard!" "Admissions favor the wealthy over the poor!" The same criticisms about parents of bright students would fit with parents of athletes or talented musicians. Maybe the problem is the insistence on ultimate success over becoming happy people. Deresiewicz attempts to explain this issue: “You’re told that you’re supposed to go to college, but you’re also told that you are being self-indulgent if you actually want to get an education. As opposed to what? Going into consulting isn’t self-indulgent? Going into finance isn’t self-indulgent? Going into law, like most of the people who do, in order to make yourself rich, isn’t self-indulgent? It’s not okay to study history, because what good does that really do anyone, but it is okay to work for a hedge fund. It’s selfish to pursue your passion, unless it’s also going to make you a lot of money, in which case it isn’t selfish at all.” Again, Deresiewicz misses the point. The reason parents are leery of their children going into a career in music or art history is that they know the pain and struggles that those professions entail. Going into finance or law is recommended because of the guaranteed financial security of possessing a professional degree from an elite college. For those who can fall back on a trust fund while pursuing their career in history, that is a viable option, but for the kid from a family making $45,000 a year that hit the jackpot of a Yale admission? The priorities are different. One of the biggest problems in Excellent Sheep is how unaware Deresiewicz is of this scenario. Every student that attends the Ivy League is not a member of the upper class, and they do not have the ability to make decisions like "pursuing a degree in English" so casually. Their parents are attempting to direct their lives for the greatest individual good of their child. One thing to keep in mind is that Deresiewicz is not concerned about these institutions being populated with the wealthy or favoring certain ethnicities over others, just the idea that the wealthy aren't getting a good enough education once they get there. The question then becomes: who is the intended audience of this book? The helicopter parents of the upper class? The middle class does not have time for his irrational diatribe against the elite colleges that have let him go. It seems the actual audience of this book are the institutions themselves for not recognizing the dedicated and brilliant teacher William Deresiewicz. Excellent Sheep reads like the same paranoia touted for years by the likes of Harold Bloom and Mortimer Adler. "The liberal arts are dying!" "We need people with a moral center!" "Kids just don't read all the books of the Western Canon anymore!" It is as if Deresiewicz thinks no one has ever seen Dead Poets Society. "Look upon the state of the Ivy League ye mighty, and despair!" This screaming into the abyss about "real education" will pass once again as it did with Adler and his Great Books series. Then, Deresiewicz will invent something new to direct his outraged. As a matter of fact, I can picture his next book already: "Entitled Brats: Millennial Humanities Majors and the Decline of STEM"

  26. 4 out of 5

    Will Ejzak

    It's not an exaggeration to say this book could function as a bible for graduating high school seniors, particularly those from wealthy communities. It's not a perfect book--it's occasionally a little preachy or elitist, as much as it tries not to be--but its core arguments feel like gospel truth. Among them: 1) The primary function of elite universities (we'll say top 20) is to reproduce social hierarchies--in other words, to keep the rich rich--while disguising this process as meritocracy (you It's not an exaggeration to say this book could function as a bible for graduating high school seniors, particularly those from wealthy communities. It's not a perfect book--it's occasionally a little preachy or elitist, as much as it tries not to be--but its core arguments feel like gospel truth. Among them: 1) The primary function of elite universities (we'll say top 20) is to reproduce social hierarchies--in other words, to keep the rich rich--while disguising this process as meritocracy (you earned it!). This creates a subconsciously self-satisfied upper class that believes deep in its collective soul that it deserves more than other people. 2) Wealthy students are encouraged to be ridiculously accomplished without giving any thought as to WHY they're gobbling up accomplishments (beyond prestige and eventual wealth/notoriety). Most wealthy, high-achieving college kids default to futures in finance or consulting or economics because they've never given a ton of thought to what's worth doing in life beyond earning more money, and no one really discourages them from that goal or presses them on it--least of all their college counselors. (In other words, the black hole of the college admissions process--at least for those who want to get into Ivies or similarly name-brand elite universities--creates kids who are neurotically achievement-oriented, risk-averse, and deaf to the humanities conversations about purpose that could actually give them a lifeline out of this black hole.) 3) In its obsession with creating "future leaders," elite universities overlook the fact that most people who rise to leadership positions are those who are charismatic believers in the status quo (rather than those who genuinely want to implement meaningful changes). In other words, it's got all the genuine idealistic vigor that a book for 18-year-olds should have. I can't help but wish someone had given it to me ten years ago (except it hadn't been written then). Read it this summer. It's short.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jolene

    I didn't love every moment of this--moments, for example, that veer into platitudes or seem to romanticize the past--but these are small critiques of a book that all teachers and, really, anyone who knows a teenager (or is a teenager) should read. That last chapter is scathing in the best possible way. I want to include a quote, but it's hard to choose just one. Hm. How about this one, appearing in one of the last chapters: "Is there anything that I can do, a lot of young people have written to I didn't love every moment of this--moments, for example, that veer into platitudes or seem to romanticize the past--but these are small critiques of a book that all teachers and, really, anyone who knows a teenager (or is a teenager) should read. That last chapter is scathing in the best possible way. I want to include a quote, but it's hard to choose just one. Hm. How about this one, appearing in one of the last chapters: "Is there anything that I can do, a lot of young people have written to ask me, to avoid becoming an out-of-touch, entitled little shit? I don't have a satisfying answer, short of telling you to transfer to a public university. You cannot cogitate your way to sympathy with people of different backgrounds, still less to knowledge of them. You need to interact with them directly, and it has to be on an equal footing: not in the context of 'service,' and not in the spirit of 'making an effort'... The only way to treat somebody as an equal is to realize that that's exactly what they are" (222). 👏👏👏

  28. 5 out of 5

    Son Tung

    I browsed through others' thoughtful reviews and i do see the counterpoints worth considering. However, there are few key points brought beautifully by the author which resonates powerfully with me: - The necessity of liberal arts education, the real education, not just education to get a high paying job and social status, but to be a responsible citizen of the world. The importance of critical thinking, passionate weirdos, reflection, changing beliefs... - The meaning of the time spent during I browsed through others' thoughtful reviews and i do see the counterpoints worth considering. However, there are few key points brought beautifully by the author which resonates powerfully with me: - The necessity of liberal arts education, the real education, not just education to get a high paying job and social status, but to be a responsible citizen of the world. The importance of critical thinking, passionate weirdos, reflection, changing beliefs... - The meaning of the time spent during university before reaching the real world (the politics at all level of it). The environment of university is one special place to begin to question and explore ideas. - The big questions (life, meaning, the self, the system, etc..) vs small questions (homeworks, quiz, etc..). How this battle create a human, a blind loyal specialist or all rounded, agile minded individual?

  29. 4 out of 5

    CT Lin

    Lets be clear. I AM an EXCELLENT SHEEP, and saw myself critiqued in the pages of this insightful book. My college-bound daughter discovered this book on the bookshelf of her college counselor, with whom she meets regularly in this, her junior year. I graduated, according to her, back in the paleolithic age, from a school in Tallahasse, Florida, that requires meters of excavation to uncover from the archeological record. Surely NOTHING I learned applies in this accelerated, Modern era. [Actual Lets be clear. I AM an EXCELLENT SHEEP, and saw myself critiqued in the pages of this insightful book. My college-bound daughter discovered this book on the bookshelf of her college counselor, with whom she meets regularly in this, her junior year. I graduated, according to her, back in the paleolithic age, from a school in Tallahasse, Florida, that requires meters of excavation to uncover from the archeological record. Surely NOTHING I learned applies in this accelerated, Modern era. [Actual quote from, at-the-time-7-year-old daughter: "That was back in the age of dinosaurs, when =I= wasn't alive, but you were."] So, I dutifully picked up this book, as she found it too tiresome to have to explain to me what Modern high schoolers were facing, and how many misconceptions I had carried and how many opportunities I had missed during my own Jurassic years. She was certainly NOT going to replicate my folly. OK, so I attended Harvard University as an undergraduate and Stanford University for medical school. We will just leave aside the snarky comments of "Ohhhh, you went to Haaahhhvahhd. I'm surprised you even talk to little people like us." This lead to the decades-long behavior of being vague about my undergraduate career: "Oh, where did you go to school?" "Um, back East." "Oh, where back East?" Um, Boston." "Oh, Boston U?" "Um, no." "So, where?" "Harvard." "Ohhhh, Haaahvaahhhd! ..." But I digress. The Daughter has informed me that she will NOT be looking at Harvard, not interviewing, not planning on attending there. Instead, she'll be seeking a college "experience" that is challenging, a smaller school with excellent teachers in smaller classes, a breadth of liberal arts subjects, as she is currently interested in EVERYTHING, good sports, great art, strong science, math, engineering, a place that will give her a chance to discover and grow, and not a treadmill rat race. Compare that to my upbringing. I do recall the strong suggestion from my parents that "being a Doctor" seems like an excellent career choice to support a family and at least a few grandparents... Interestingly, my over-the-top uncle always insisted that the hard-working Chinese immigrant would "take over America" in several waves: First generation: study math and science, become Engineers! because poor language skills are not a handicap in this field. Second generation: continue math and science, but now, you have better language skills: become Doctors! Third generation: who cares about math and science, because with outstanding language skills: become Lawyers! Time to Take Over the government! So, 3 generations until the Immigrants run the place. Sure, I played my part. Where was I? Oh yes, and that First Generation drive to excel pushed me into the biggest name University that my parents could think of: the big H. In the years since graduation, I must say that although quite a number of my classmates have gone on to do great things and look back with fondness on those years, a surprising number have mixed memories and some consider it a mistake: a roiling cauldron of 5000 high powered, driven students looking for a stepping-stone to a professional degree: MD, JD, MBA. And on the flip side, did Harvard open doors that were closed to grads from other schools? Perhaps a Stanford Med spot? Possibly, but not for certain. Would I have become a physician regardless? Almost certainly yes. Big H was big. Economics 101 in Sanders Theater: 1000+ students in one class. Never met the professor. Psychology 101: more than 800 students. Inorganic Chemistry: 400 students, and I approached my first college exam, being ready to regurgitate, as my high school well taught me, the facts I had stuffed in my head. Instead I was faced with 5 impenetrable essay questions: "Let's theorize a new universe where instead of the usual S and P electron orbitals, there are now 13 electrons in a shell. Hypothesize how molecules would form differently?" Just as I was flipping through the pages, realizing that I could answer NONE of the questions, one of the students in the front row (whom we later understood had taken too many NO DOZE the night before), began to have a seizure. He was carried out by paramedics. We looked at each other in a panic: apparently college exams KILL STUDENTS. The pressures then were intense, and now that it is several times more difficult to navigate the waters to an admissions letter, I imagine the pressure is even greater. Reports of suicide and high rates of anxiety and depression seem to confirm these fears. I think I was lucky in my ancient days: finding a small cadre of like-minded students, forming what we called the "Oligarchy" and causing all sorts of pseudo-governance shenanigans. For example, using my new Macintosh to print posters taking credit for social functions organized by others: "The OLIGARCHY welcomes you to tonights' Dance." "The OLIGARCHY invites you to come to a screening of Ingmar Bergman's latest masterpiece." "The OLIGARCHY is sponsoring the French Accent Table tonight at dinner." You see, amongst the pompous French, Spanish, German language tables at dinner at Dunster House, we formed the "French Accent" table, sat one row over from the French table, and proceeded with our best, overly-loud Monty Python accents to overwhelm, dismay and ultimately dismantle and chase away the overly serious. Seriously, though, finding a group where you can belong, can make all the difference in a large University that is seemingly uncaring, and too large to look after all the students all the time. Excellent Sheep describes the slow evolution of students being shaped by geologic forces into perfect specimens, designed specifically to assemble the perfect high school resume: over a dozen AP courses, straight A's, months of SAT and ACT prep, a collection of club presidencies, a collection of varsity sports lettermen jackets, and oh, yes, don't forget those few months spent with the Peace Corp. Julie Lythcott Haimes, freshmen dean at Stanford, writes in "How to Raise an Adult" that every year the Stanford freshmen class is more impressive than the last. Have we not perfected the high school resume? Justin Hoffman's The Graduate was a perfect specimen, only to realize he was disenfranchised and fossilized in the older generation's expectations. Malcolm Gladwell notes, in his book "David and Goliath" that students with comparable SAT scores who attend the best school they can get into and graduate in the middle of their class, do far worse in their subsequent career (sometimes even quitting their chosen field because of overwhelming competition) than students who go to a strong, smaller school, find a good mentor, a comfortable yet challenging culture in which to excel and graduate nearer the top of their class. I think I'm taking all this time, reminiscing about my pleistocene years, to meander around to my point. I'm actually fine NOT having my daughter attend Harvard. There are thousands of excellent schools that do not cater to, and do not want Excellent Sheep. They intend to grow strong adults, with a sense of identity, of curiosity, of perspective. Did Harvard serve me well? Sure, and maybe I was lucky. Do I want to use my advantages and push her into a Legacy spot in the Harvard Admissions queue? Surprisingly, I think my answer has become "no." Ms. Lythcott-Haimes perhaps should have the last word. I (ineptly) paraphrase: "Our children are NOT hot-house orchids, requiring perfect care and feeding. They are instead wildflowers of an unknown genus and species." And it is up to all of us to help them discover what they will become.

  30. 5 out of 5

    BeyondSecretPages

    America has many of the best universities in the world, and yet, the whole system of getting into these elite colleges is quite unfair. In his book, Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz writes about the middle class (more specifically, the upper middle class) and how parents pressure their kids into getting into the Ivy League or similar, how pursuing the humanities in college is more beneficial than the technical subjects, and how society perpetuates this education problem. I feel very America has many of the best universities in the world, and yet, the whole system of getting into these elite colleges is quite unfair. In his book, Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz writes about the middle class (more specifically, the upper middle class) and how parents pressure their kids into getting into the Ivy League or similar, how pursuing the humanities in college is more beneficial than the technical subjects, and how society perpetuates this education problem. I feel very conflicted about this book. While I do agree with some of the things Deresiewicz says, I also don't agree with the other things he says. However, I think this book is frequently eye-opening and there are some interesting points that are made. One of the things I don't like about the book is how Deresiewicz uses specific anecdotes in place of more broad data, and then generalizes. Sure, I can see that there are many who are unsatisfied and unfulfilled with their experiences at top-tier colleges based on these anecdotes, but I feel like the author made it seem like everyone who graduates from these colleges are unfulfilled. I just didn't see the data to support some of his claims, and I don't know for sure how many are actually in such a position. (And of course, there are those who don't go to a top-tier college and are still unfulfilled.) On the other hand, the anecdotes are effective, but they don't stand as an only source of evidence. Another thing Deresiewicz argues is that more people should pursue the humanities in college instead of technical subjects like math or science, which would help people to think deeply about life and the world. I don't really agree with this, and I'm someone who's interested in both STEM and the humanities. Anyone can think deeply about philosophical topics, about novels, without having a degree in it, or even while pursuing a technical subject. I don't think we need more humanities majors, we need people who major in something they're truly interested in, or who choose to go to college because that really is the best option, not as a default. I've also heard some other people say that only parts 1 and 4 are worth reading, and I'd say I agree. The middle sections were a bit of the same thing over and over again, but the beginning and end are quite insightful. Anyway, some interesting points were made, like the anecdotes of helicopter parents and how they don't encourage independence, which I think is really important. There's also this: "Everybody wants their child to get an education, but nobody wants them to get an education education." What I'm getting from this is that society doesn't encourage the actual learning, but what the diploma represents. I think it's like saying you graduated from Harvard, which some people view as more important than what you actually learned from Harvard. Education is like a status symbol. (I find it interesting how the education system is very dependent on money and class, when it really shouldn't be.) The last thing I want to mention is the unfairness of the system. The top-tier schools are meant for those who have money, for those who will donate in a few years, for those who have access to the resources that can help them prepare for the SAT, to get a higher GPA, to participate in more extracurriculars. Deresiewicz explains how the system (both in college and the workplace) is not always merit-based. It might not matter how hard you work, because employers might as well hire the person who came from Yale. The same goes for instances of grade inflation in these top schools, since the amount of hard work you put into it might not affect your grades too much. Overall, Excellent Sheep makes some great points about the college system in America, and the people involved in this area. Although there are some flaws, it's worth reading, especially if you're going into college.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.