Are We All Just "Excellent Sheep"?

At my university we are all required to take a freshman writing course. At first, I was a little skeptical because I thought it would just be a repeat of high school or, since I'm in the honors program, I thought it was going to be really hard. However, this was not the case. Upon receiving my book requirements for the course they weren't text books but actual books that real people in the real world read. One of them (the one we are currently reading) is Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz. In his book, Deresiewicz, comments on the higher education system in the U.S. specifically the Ivy Leagues and about the so called elite youth that attend them. Throughout the book he talks about these students and even though they are brilliant, they lack a lot of necessary skills that will help them in the long run.

One of the arguments he makes is that these students lack passion. "Questions of purpose and passion were not on the syllabus" (Deresiewicz 11). These students have no idea what they want to be or even where to start. This is due to the fact that their entire life they've been told how to feel by their parents and have been pressured by their peers. Deresiewicz spoke to me on quite a deep level because I completely agreed with what he was arguing. I was one of the fortunate few who knew exactly what they wanted to do since I was a freshman in high school. I had supportive parents who didn't care what path I chose as long as I was happy. “Life is more than then a job; jobs are more than a paycheck; and a country is more than its wealth” Deresiewicz 78). One thing my mother instilled in me was that, you could make all the money in the world but if you wake up and hate your job than what is the point?

I then took sort of an unorthodox route to my high school career. At my high school if you were smart you took the typical elite path. This means that you take all honors courses and when the first AP is available you take that too. Now for me, I only took honors classes that interested me or I felt would help me with my career in the long run. This caused me to be looked down upon by my peers. They seemed to be saying, “You are too smart to be in a CP class.” Yes, that is right, I was looked down upon for taking a college prep classes versus the honors or AP. And might I say that college prep classes at my high school were no piece of cake either. See I thought to myself, "Why would I need AP Bio if I was going to be a theatre major?" Now my peer's response to this would be, "You take it because it's another AP. That looks good on a college application." I hated this mentality, it didn't make any sense to me. “It’s hard to build your soul when everyone around you is trying to sell theirs” (Deresiewicz 15). If you're not passionate about it and you hate it then why do it.

I see this lot with my friends in grades below me. Listening to what they intend to take for courses and they talk about how stressed they are but they "need that extra AP" because if not how are they going to get into college? “Measureable here, means capable of showing up on a college application” (Deresiewicz 50). Specifically I saw this with my friends who are now seniors in high school. My senior year I really only needed one class to graduate because throughout my high school years I always took more than required. And to still be considered a full-time student at my high school you had to take at least four classes per semester. This gave me the chance to take some fun classes and to take classes about things that have always interested me. My senior year in high school became a fun year for me and it was a lot less stressful than previous years. Around March of last year I was talking to some of my friends, who were juniors at the time, about what classes they were thinking about taking. All of them named at least two to three APs they’d be taking, some of them taking two AP math courses alone. To me this seemed crazy. I couldn’t understand why. I couldn’t fathom why they would put that much stress on themselves.

What I am trying to get at here is that I think our nation is in this place where instead of creating beautiful, creative minds that think independently; we create these robotic humans that can’t function without instructions, syllabi and cheat sheets. We are creating these zombies with no passion for what they do and they actually hate it. The sad thing too is that they hate everything they do too. “I hate all my activities, I hate all my classes, I hated everything I did in high school, I expect to hate my job, and this is just how it’s going to be for the rest of my life” (Deresiewicz 11). This shouldn’t be the way we live our lives. Life is too short to be spent miserable; doing a career we hate. If there is anything I’ve learned it is wake up and love what you do. That is the entire point Deresiewicz is trying to get across to his readers and I couldn’t agree with him more.



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