Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Leadership: The West Point Lecture by William Deresiewicz

William Deresiewicz was a professor at Yale.  He quit and wrote a book called Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life .  I am finding it an interesting book, although I do not agree with his views on the Liberal Arts education.  Dr. Deresiewicz was invited to speak at West Point.  Here are two copies of his speech.  This one is in PDF so you can download it.  This copy is at the American Scholar website, March 1, 2010.

Here is the major thrust of his concerns.  He is talking about students at Yale.

So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. Any goal you set them, they could achieve. Any test you gave them, they could pass with flying colors. They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.” I had no doubt that they would continue to jump through hoops and ace tests and go on to Harvard Business School, or Michigan Law School, or Johns Hopkins Medical School, or Goldman Sachs, or McKinsey consulting, or whatever. And this approach would indeed take them far in life. They would come back for their 25th reunion as a partner at White & Case, or an attending physician at Mass General, or an assistant secretary in the Department of State.

That is exactly what places like Yale mean when they talk about training leaders. Educating people who make a big name for themselves in the world, people with impressive titles, people the university can brag about. People who make it to the top. People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.

But I think there’s something desperately wrong, and even dangerous, about that idea

He raises excellent objections to elitist education, but I do not agree with his solutions.  He cannot offer a good solution because, as an English professor, he is too much a part of the problem to see a solution.

Because he spoke at West  Point, Dr. Deresiewicz mentioned General David Petraeus in his talk, but his references to the general struck me as shallow, just rehashing commonly available facts from newspaper articles. 

This article gives you the flavor of his Excellent Sheep book.  The most important take-away from Deresiewicz is that elitist education is deeply flawed.  We must remember that Vietnam was an elitist war.  It was run by elitist Harvard and Yale graduates like Robert McNamara (Harvard MBA), General William Westmoreland (Harvard MBA), McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and Paul Warnke.

Many parents in Plano would like their children to go to Harvard or Yale, but it is important to recognize that there are serious problems with the education offered at Harvard and Yale.


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