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

7. Leadership

  • Elite schools are looking for students with leadership potential. Unfortunately, they want their future leaders to get to the top, make a lot of money and become future rich donors. They want graduates to climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to so they obtain fancy titles that the school can brag about. What gets you up the ladder, however, isn’t always excellence. It usually involves not sticking your neck out for the sake of your principles. These leaders tend to be little adults who don’t challenge the big grown-ups who run the place. The system has worked for them so why shake things up. At one time leadership meant duty, honor, courage, toughness, graciousness, and selflessness. It meant devotion to the benefit of others, not yourself and allegiance to ideals. It would be nice if colleges tried to train thinkers who question those in power and reflect critically upon organizations. These students will also need the fortitude to put criticisms into practice. While they need to work with groups, they need to avoid groupthink and be willing to challenge consensus and be skeptical. The idea of service should not done for the sake of building one’s resume but for building your mind.

8. Great Books

  • The essence of this chapter is that liberal arts majors are more likely to improve critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills more than majors that are more practical in nature. For the most part, liberal arts courses involve pursuing knowledge for its own sake and it have nothing to do with liberalism. Rather than acquiring knowledge, you debate and create it. You marshal evidence, evaluate authorities, anticipate objections, synthesize your findings, and communicate them. You may concentrate on one field, but you get significant exposure to others so you learn different ways to think. You also learn to educate yourself.
  • Liberal arts graduates are highly valued in the work place and it almost doesn’t matter what they study. Most companies are looking for the thinking, problem solving, and communication skills associated with liberal art curricula. While vocational majors realize an initial wage premium, it all but disappears within a decade. There is also the risk for vocational majors as what they learn becomes obsolete over time. Even humanities majors outperform biology majors on the MCAT, social science majors of the LSAT, business majors on the GMAT, and all other majors on the verbal part of the GRE. In an age when information is freely available, the question is weather you know what to do with it, and many Asian countries are beginning to realize that rote learning is of far less value. If you are in a more practical major, there is no reason why you can’t spend time in some liberal arts courses that expand your horizons and improve your thinking. This will also give you a better chance that thinking across disciplines, which is more important than ever.

9. Spirit Guides

  • At the heart of the problem is the trend that started around 1960 that turned the top universities into research institutions as teaching took a back seat. Professors were rewarded for bring in grant money and publications, while popular professors were often denied tenure. Good teaching requires critiquing student work point by point, identifying errors in logic and suggesting missed opportunities. I requires spending time listening and asking why questions to help them develop. There should be a shift from large lectures to small seminars where students need to challenge each other with nowhere to hide. It’s clear that what we need is not incentivized and happening much less than it should. There is also a shift away tenure track professors and toward part-time adjuncts who get laughably low salaries.
  • So do students want to be entertained and get easy A’s, or do they want to be challenged and cared about? The later would fall in to the category of mentoring, which all students should seek. The best mentors listen and help students hear what they are saying so they can better understand themselves. The trend towards more adjuncts and online learning is heading in the opposite direction from the teacher/mentor.
  • Another target of William’s wrath are online courses such as MOOCs. As he sees it, they are making things worse. Rather than challenging assignments and detailed feedback, students get multiple choice quizzes graded by machine. Unlike the top elite schools where students get to meet, mix, and marry equally privileged peers, online learners are often alone with their laptop. While they might be ok for adult self-directed learners, they won’t help college age students discover themselves.
  • William’s solution is for colleges to redirect their efforts more towards quality teaching. If that can’t be done while satisfying the school’s research effort, then they could create a separate tenure track for professors who’s main focus is on teaching. They should also provide pedagogy training for professors. There are certainly plenty of PhDs out there looking for work, and probably many researchers who would happily trade in some lab/library time for contact with human students.
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter Share this page via Google Plus
DrDougGreen.com     If you like the summary, buy the book
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Leave a Reply