Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"It might surprise the countless students competing for admission to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford that they could be fighting for a dubious prize. But in this probing indictment, a former Yale professor accuses America's top universities of turning young people into tunnel-visioned careerists, adept at padding their résumés and filling their bank accounts but unprepared to confront life's most important questions....An urgent summons to a long-overdue debate over what universities do and how they do it."
Booklist (starred review)
"An unquestionably provocative book that hopefully leads to productive debate."
About the Author
William 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. Visit BillDeresiewicz.com.