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

12. The Self-Overcoming of the Hereditary Meritocracy

  • Here William looks at recent presidents, candidates, supreme court justices, and other leaders and finds that the concentration of elite college graduates, especially from Harvard and Yale, has greatly increased since the 1980’s. He also is very critical of all, regardless of their political party. He sees the leader class as overly pleased with themselves, and whose failure is obvious. They are a reflection of the system that is charged with reproducing itself. An example of William’s bipartisan bashing is the statement that “George W. Bush was feckless privilege personified, while Bill Clinton epitomized unfocused ambition.” In general, our elite today are brilliant, gifted, energetic, anxious, greedy, bland, and risk-adverse, with no courage and no vision.
  • Obama is cited for his book The Audacity of Hope and blamed for having audacious ambition and dodging difficult fights. When it comes to hiring, anyone from Harvard or Princeton is safe even if they end up a dud, while public school hires are considered risky. The elites produce uniform human specimens rather than the diverse personalities you get from other schools. The leadership class does a great job of taking care of itself by way of high salaries for CEOs and lobbyist jobs for ex politicians. They get the opportunity part, but not the responsibility part.
  • So how can we prevent privilege from being handed down. One way is to change our admissions policies. Affirmative action should be based on class instead of race. Preferences for legacies and athletes should be discarded. SAT scores should be weighted to account for socio-economic factors. Limitations should be placed on the number of extracurriculars allowed on an application. More weight should be placed on the kind of service jobs that lower-income students often take in high school. Experiences or opportunities enabled by parental wealth should be discounted. There should also be a part of the application that deals with student failures. Once these criteria change there should be some system change. As we face a world of economic fluidity, political instability, and unpredictable dangers an opportunities, We need a different kind of brain.
  • Most states have cut funding to higher education by over 30% since 1980 as tuitions have more than doubled. Only the wealthy haven’t suffered. While we have free K-12 education, we need to make higher education more affordable for the lower class students who show they are ready. Otherwise we will continue to hand down inequality. The reliance on local property taxes also insures that rich kids get better schools. As it is, the wealthy are hogging all the resources as they screw up their own kids without realizing it. In short, we have tried aristocracy, now it’s time to try democracy.
  • Doug: I throughly enjoyed this book, but was disappointed to find that it lacked a list of references cited in the text in the back of the book. It also lacks an index. I hope this can be addressed in the next edition.
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