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Excellent Sheep

A former Yale professor on the clever but morally clueless students pursuing an elite education.

A former Yale professor on the clever but morally clueless students pursuing an elite education.

In 2014, William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep: The miseducation of the American elite and the way to a meaningful life became an instant best-seller. The former Yale professor called out the way that elite American universities produced “excellent sheep”: clever, highly credentialled, and conscientious young people who were nonetheless stumped about the meaning of life. Instead, they funnelled themselves into high-paying jobs in law, finance, medicine, consulting, or tech.   

In this fascinating discussion, Deresiewicz talks about the way that words like “soul” have a gravity that non-religious language can’t replicate, why a good education is necessarily going to ask existential questions about “love and time and God and everything”, and how he annoyed Canadian psychologist and popular science writer Steven Pinker with talk about university as a time to “build your self”.

As the Australian federal government changes the pricing structure of university degrees to encourage students to pursue courses in areas of expected job growth, it’s clear that we’re also asking: what exactly is the value of an education?

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Excellent Sheep: The miseducation of the American elite and the way to a meaningful life

(Bill’s most recent book) The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech