Slouching Towards a Prestigious Degree: Part II

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Deep learning is a gift we all want for our children.  For some, the right place for deep learning about the world and life can be an elite university, where time to explore and contemplate is a luxury worth the price of tuition.

But Yale Professor William Deresiewicz warns in his newly published Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite, as parents we should be wary that assembly line preparation of  young heroes for college admission may have unintended consequences.

Professor Deresiewicz writes of his students:

So extreme are the admission standards now, so ferocious the competition, that kids who manage to get into elite colleges, by definition, never experienced anything but success.  The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them, defeats them.  The cost of falling short becomes not merely practical but existential.

Of course, the “success” Professor Deresiewicz references is in regurgitating information and acing standardized tests, not success in real world accomplishments.  What is the effect when report cards and credentials become more important than learning and character, particularly learning how to fail and try again?

Deresiewicz continues:

The result is a violent aversion to risk.  You have no margin for error; so you avoid the possibility you will make an error.  This is one of the reasons that elite education has become so inimical to learning.

At Acton Academy our Eagles experiment, explore, discover — and fail.  The main lesson of the Hero’s Journey is that heroes get knocked down, pick themselves up, dust  off, and go back into the arena, as many times as necessary.  Winning or losing isn’t the issue – it’s the grit, persistence and courage to never give up.

How ironic that encouraging Eagles to fail early, cheaply and often isn’t just great training for life, but is becoming such a rare trait that it might impress the admissions committee of an elite university.

Acton Academy: equipping and inspiring heroes.  No sheep allowed; especially excellent ones.


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