Excellent Sheep – Musings on Elite Education

by Courtney | January 1, 2017

Been spending a good amount of time this hdce2c467-9638-438f-9b01-416dd3923f1b-jpgoliday break hanging with the family and
crocheting pillows to replace the ones that my stupid best friend’s stupid dog ate while I was so generously dogsitting.

But also, have been doing a lot of reading. The brokenhearted reading of how crappy poor-segregated schools can be (but aren’t always [Dr. W., VB]!) need to be balanced with some brokenhearted reading of the glory of the privileged-segregated schools offerings. And, as a family-with-choice, I want to know what I am “giving up” in exchange for an integrated/ing education (not that we could afford fancy private schools… but still…).


So I chose these to start:  Khan’s Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite and Deresiewicz Excellent Sheep: The MisEducation of the American Elite


These two books are meritocracy hole-punchers. While elite schools purport to celebrate what-students-have-earned and provide more opportunities to earn more, they are actually the great tricksters of privilege. Hiding access and opportunity and behind the moral superiority of “hard work” is a pretty smooth move.

But right. We know this, no? We know that the meritocracy trope of ‘those who work hard deserve all they earn’ is the great silencer of inequity. We know that, as Deresiewicz writes, that the vast majority of Ivy students are kids who outcompeted their fellow students at elite private high schools… but that also “90 percent of [the other kids] were excluded from the race before it even began.” (Yeah. That.) We know that there is no equal playing field.

But what became increasingly clear as I read was also how the meritocracy-sustained Bubble is not only oppressive for those who are on the outside, but it is also not all glowing roses on the inside either. The Bubble is a powered on Achievement – measurable, sustained and never-enough Achievement – at the expense of engagement, reflection and risk-taking. And at the expense of happiness.



Excellent Sheep’s partial solution is a call for colleges to reinvest in the humanities (side note: fav line in the book “instead of humanities, kids are getting amenities”).  I can’t read it, though, without substituting K-12 school integration  for humanities  The humanities/Integration forces kids out of the Bubble, confronts the uncomfortable, demands reflection, and ultimately makes a better person and society. And integration actually includes everyone in a win.Heavy lifting.


Excellent Sheep will surely go in the book club reading list…   But I’ll close with this: exsheep9

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