As a professor at Yale, Bill Deresiewicz saw something that troubled him deeply. Read more...
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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-05-05
- Reviewer: Staff
The kids are all wrong—especially the superachievers at the nation’s top universities—according to this stinging indictment of American higher education. Culture critic Deresiewicz (A Jane Austen Education) expands his notorious American Scholar essay into a jeremiad against elite colleges, the Ivy League and, in particular, Yale, where he taught English. Students, he argues, are “smart and talented and driven... but also anxious, timid, and lost”; narcissistic helicopter parents—Tiger-Mom Amy Chua gets lambasted—pressure them to trade fulfillment for money and status. According to the author, colleges with indifferent teaching and incoherent curricula offer no guidance on intellectual development or character formation; the whole system reinforces a class hierarchy that “equates virtue, dignity, and happiness with material success.” Entwined with his j’accuse is an impassioned, idealistic plea to reclaim the undergraduate years as a journey of self-discovery guided by engaged professors who challenge students to think for themselves instead of following the flock to Wall Street. Deresiewicz’s critique of America’s most celebrated schools as temples of mercenary mediocrity is lucid, sharp-edged, and searching, and if he sometimes too easily dismisses the practical expectations surrounding ruinously expensive degrees, he poses vital questions about what college teaches—and why. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates. (Aug.)