At The New York Times Book Review, Anthony Grafton reviews Excellent Sheep, the new book by William Deresiewicz, which is not impressed with the nation's elite academic institutions:
William Deresiewicz, a recovering English professor who taught for many years at Yale, has indicted America’s elite universities. With their stately buildings and soaring trees, their star professors and even starrier student bodies, Ivy League schools look like paradises of learning. Deresiewicz describes them as something very different, and very much worse.
The trouble starts at admission. Top universities woo thousands of teenagers to apply, but seek one defined type: the student who has taken every Advanced Placement class and aced every exam, made varsity in a sport, played an instrument in the state youth orchestra and trekked across Nepal. This demanding system looks meritocratic. In practice, though, it aims directly at the children of the upper middle class, groomed since birth by parents, tutors and teachers to leap every hurdle. (The very rich can gain admission without leaping much of anything, as Deresiewicz also points out.)Advertisement
Once in college, these young people lead the same Stakhanovite lives, even though they’re no longer competing to get in. They accept endless time-sucking activity and pointless competition as the natural condition of future leaders. Too busy to read or make friends, listen to music or fall in love, they waste the precious years that they should be devoting to building their souls on building their résumés.