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Rethinking America’s Approach to Education

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William Deresiewicz, Approach to education

With William Deresiewicz, Former English Professor, Author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life

In his book, Bill Deresiewicz believes our approach to education is wrong with an over-emphasis on hyper-achievers trained to jump through higher and higher hoops while neglecting other facets such as a focus on a well-rounded education that makes our students better prepared for life and career.

Bill talks about the insane admissions frenzy and incredible competitiveness to get into a good university – our ticket to the good life. He also talks about the “excellent sheep” – the ultra-high achievers who are always looking for the next step to climb higher. This elite group also tends to overwhelmingly flock to four career buckets – finance, consulting, law and medicine – and form the core of America’s leadership across industry and government.

Bill also served on Yale University’s Admissions Committee, and shares his insights from that experience. The admissions criteria were just extremely high and tended to favor students with multiple proficiencies in things like sports, foreign languages, music, art, and, of course, straight-A grades in high school. This focus on super achievement was also brought to light in the satirical book – Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua – that spoke with self-deprecating humor about very strict parenting.

But are our educational systems and social values focusing on the wrong vectors and are we missing out as a society? Can we have better leaders by changing the education and admissions process? Can we mold well-rounded leaders by de-emphasizing achievement and allowing people to find their true calling beyond the current top four fields of finance, consulting, medicine and law? Can the admissions process be changed to allow independent, courageous and curious free-thinkers access to the country’s best colleges? How do we make our schools better? And is an online education as effective as sitting in a teacher-led classroom?

I've been an investment strategist and adviser for over 35 years, leading with a mission of unbiased advice to educate and protect listeners on my weekly radio show on NPR affiliates nationwide. I have been named a “Top 100 Wealth Advisor” by Worth Magazine and “Top Advisor” by Reuters.