Episode 065: Reading of The Disadvantages of an Elite Education by William Deresiewicz

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Today, I’ll do something different. I’ll be reading an essay by William Deresiewicz called The Disadvantages of an Elite Education that appeared in The American Scholar in June 2008.

This is a great article that affected me profoundly. It’s a controversial essay about what we typically think of most prestigious universities like Yale and Harvard. It questions the type of education students are getting in these elite institutions, and asks if it’s the type of education that we should be doing for our future leaders. I hope you find it interesting as I do.

William Deresiewicz’s Bio:

William DeresiewiczAs a professor at Yale, William Deresiewicz saw something that troubled him deeply. His students were adrift when it came to the big questions: how to think critically and creatively, and how to find a sense of purpose. In his new book Excellent Sheep and in eye-opening talks, Deresiewicz candidly exposes where the elite education system is broken and presents a clear way forward.

In Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, William Deresiewicz delivers 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. Spurred by the reaction to his landmark essays “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” and “Solitude and Leadership,” the book takes a look at the culture of competition and fear in the elite education admissions system, and how young people are having difficulty finding a sense of inner purpose. But they can find their way to a meaningful life, argues Deresiewicz—if we re-focus higher education on the development of self.

Deresiewicz is a contributing writer for The Nation and contributing editor for The New Republic and The American Scholar. He speaks regularly on the state of education in America at schools and leadership conferences across the country to enormous interest and acclaim. An associate professor of English at Yale until 2008, he is the author of the highly acclaimed A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter, which has been optioned for development as a television series.


Show Notes:

(05:42) It makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you.

(09:18) An elite education inculcates a false sense of self-worth.

(11:54) It teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense.

(12:50) An elite education not only ushers you into the upper classes; it trains you for the life you will lead once you get there.

(18:15) If one of the disadvantages of an elite education is the temptation it offers to mediocrity, another is the temptation it offers to security.

(21:40) It is profoundly anti-intellectual.

William Deresiewicz’s new book: The Excellent Sheep


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