We got lunch with William Deresiewicz


Okay, well, we kind of did. Earlier today, thirty-ish students packed into the third floor of the SciLi to eat pizza and have controversial conversation — a Brunionian’s favorite pastime — with William (Bill) Deresiewicz. That name sound familiar to you? Maybe you saw it when his essay, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies”, went viral at the end of last June. The article, arguing that elite education has become a disingenuous, impersonal, and streamlined process, placed a brutal attack on our Facebook Newsfeeds. When it wasn’t posted on your Timeline, it was emailed to you from Mom and Dad, from Bubbe, or even from a family friend who was sure to ask the standard, “What are your thoughts on this? Would love to hear!!!” Suddenly, the world questioned: Do you, as a Brown University student, feel like a zombie? Are you wasting your money? Your time? Your life? If the quarter-life crisis hadn’t kicked in yet, then “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League and both the offense and defense arguments that followed were sure to be triggers.

We wanted to hear what Bill Deresiewicz had to say in the flesh, and pizza always is an added incentive. In case you missed the dialogue earlier, Deresiewicz will be speaking tonight at 6p.m. in the McCormack Family Theater located inside of the English Department building (70 Brown Street).

Whether you’re skeptical of Deresiewicz’s rhetoric or open to his ideas about a reformed concept of academia, here are a few things we think you should know based on our conversation, despite the fact that it was confined within the bleak, cold, and desolate SciLi walls:

1. His essay in the New Republic was a collage, so to speak, of small pieces from his recently published book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life.
Deresiewicz duly noted that the essay was composed of his words, but strung together by editors at the New Republic. The editors used the parts of the book that resonated with them most in order to create the most riveting article they possibly could. Clearly, they succeeded.

2. The essay really only touches upon half of what his book, Excellent Sheep, attempts to accomplish.
The other half strays away from the idea that the Ivy League is for “entitled little shits.” Rather, it aims to shine a light on what we can do to avoid becoming “entitled little shits” in our higher education experience.

3. He never said “Don’t send your kids to the Ivy League.”
New Republic editors crafted that title themselves. From this, we can also take away that the New Republic editors really know how to grab readers’ attention.

4. He thinks Brown is kinda cool. Keyword “kinda,” though.
“I have gotten the impression that Brown is a little better… that it pays closer attention to the things I want schools to pay attention to. Actually, it’s at the better end of the spectrum.” He said that we were “better” than some of our dear friends in Philly, New Haven, and Durham when it comes to being not-zombies.

5. The millennials aren’t to blame.
This is a national issue that extends fifty years back. The solution to the problem might lie in a few places, one of them being public funding for colleges and college education. According to Deresiewicz, public universities are the answer, but only in the socio-economical sense. In his opinion, small, liberal arts colleges are more ideal in terms of granting students a purposeful education.

6. Okay, so what’s a purposeful education?
Deresiewicz consciously never uses the term “finding yourself” in his writing or speech because he recognizes that the process of “finding oneself” is much too complicated to pinpoint or generalize. One might not be able to find oneself, but if one does so, it doesn’t have to happen in college. However, he considers college to be a prism — one in which you enter as a light source, and are redirected through education and experience that divert you onto an unexpected path. It is supposed to change you or affect you so that you don’t choose a career path (most notably in the fields of finance, consulting, medicine, and law) simply based on your lack of passion for anything else.

7. We shouldn’t worry about the good that “it” — whatever “it” may be — is going to do. We should just do it.
And hopefully, we’ll end up happy.

If you find any or all of these ideas stirring, then don’t miss his lecture tonight in McCormack. Because honestly, this isn’t even the half of it.

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