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

Written by:
William Deresiewicz
Narrated by:
Mel Foster

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
August 2014
8 hours 37 minutes
As a professor at Yale, William 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.
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I was skeptical when I heard about this but boy am I glad I read it! Very important read for anyone who went to college since 1990 or has kids who may. The crushing rat race we have been putting our kids through since the 1980s is horrifying, and the author lists the gory details (intense work, huge pressure, depression, anxiety, self harm, overmedication, purposelessness), how it came to be, the consequences to our society, and how to fix it. Well researched and explained. Turns out the 1960s shift at the Ivies away from soft admissions based on elite WASPy cultural fit and wealth toward merit and fairness and openness to women and BIPOC people, coupled with (and here i think the author gives short shrift) the annihilation of the middle class by the conservative economics of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama-Trump (all of whom presided over the death of unions, rising inequality, degraded socio-economic mobility, corporate welfare, and softer and softer pampering of the rich so that they can rarely fall far) and the related destruction of a sense of security in the middle class (whither the comfortable retirement of the lifetime middle manager with a pension and affordable family costs like education and healthcare? Oh, right, privatization destroyed that!), and the coincident panic among the upper middle class (for the love of god don’t let me or my kids slip I to the - gulp - middle class!), all together created the monstrosity of overprogrammed kids’ lives that is crushing their spirits and turning them into little uncreative technocrats-in-training. I have to say that I believe his descriptions even though they do not match my ivy undergrad experience (1990-94). I don’t think I was suffering from false consciousness — I had amazing conversations with my roomies and friends about the meaning of life and our creations of our “selves,” and none of us was sleeping 2 (or even 4-5) hours a night or skipping from one activity to another. We watched the Simpsons and played Mario kart. And none of us went into consulting (ok after two years of teaching I did :/). Anyway, my take is that the whole thing went to hell after I left. And now I’m scared as hell for my son, who is a smart kid but just as prone as the next to be hard on himself or get down sometimes. I don’t want him anywhere near this ratrace. So yeah please let’s get creative and energetic about breaking down this unhealthy education system we have at the top (I think he says) 100ish colleges. Maybe the DoE can tie funding to reporting on important metrics like student demographics, grade inflation, teacher demographics and who is full or part time and who is tenure track or adjunct, and even achieving benchmarks like putting adjuncts on tenure track or somehow actually prioritizing *teaching* (because even in my experience the university clearly didn’t care about teaching ability - it was more about who had a Nobel, which must be strongly inversely correlated to teaching ability!). One criticism - the author seems to have a blind spot around race. Eg he wants diversity to be replaced with economic disadvantage and to get more rural white kids into these top schools. Ok but race is an actual thing, and there is huge value to the school and the student body in being racially diverse. Also I’m not sure how you can bemoan the lack of rural white kids without immediately also acknowledging the dearth of urban (or rural) BIPOC kids. Not nearly enough are getting in. Also, as the race class narrative teaches, it is the very act of including those kids and their families in the discussion that will promote the creativity and revolutionary thinking necessary to drive change in the system. Also, the audio version is weak (but still super interesting because of the content): the reader sounds like a robot.

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Ayub M.

Heard about it, read it,loved it.

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
This title is due for release on August 19, 2014.

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