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

Former Yale professor William Deresiewicz's Excellent Sheep is a cutting and timely critique of post-secondary education in the United States. His argument: universities are broken. The breadth of attendees' socioeconomic backgrounds is narrowing, leading to an elite class of cookie-cutter graduates, scrambling to please others instead of developing the ability to think independently. Deresiewicz (A Jane Austen Education) believes universities produce people who have academic degrees but lack a sense of self and a foundation for learning later in life. This book provides a thorough overview of how the modern use of scores and grades to find qualified students is related to (and as harmful as) historical exclusionary admissions practices. Furthermore, Deresiewicz maintains that the current focus on high test scores and correct answers not only damages an individual's ability to live a meaningful life but also perpetuates a class-based meritocracy that is detrimental to society as a whole.

Coupling research with illuminating anecdotes, Deresiewicz shows how students are taught to move through school projecting façades of confidence and control, an illusion that can result in mental-health concerns. Graduates often pursue jobs that require neither creativity nor innovation but feel safe. The future Deresiewicz paints is bleak, and the solutions he offers--ranging from mitigating current socioeconomic disparities to funding education fully--are not easily accomplished. This book is both a plea to educators and administrators as well as a collection of the advice he wishes he'd received as a student. Change is needed, revolution may be necessary, but in Deresiewicz's mind, the onus is on students themselves to start demanding a system that adequately develops their minds. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

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