‘Colbert Report’ on Excellent Sheep and Elite Education

By Mark Walsh — October 17, 2014 1 min read
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Two seemingly big egos went head-to-head this week on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” Of course, one was host Stephen Colbert’s blow-hard conservative persona.

The other was his Thursday night guest, William Deresiewicz, the author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & the Way to a Meaningful Life. That is the much-debated book about the state of Ivy League and other elite college education.

“That title is as long as a doctorate,” Colbert told the author, who had just established that he had a Ph.D. “I hope that title went through peer review.”

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Ivy League institutions “are not what they are cracked up to be,” said Deresiewicz, who fought off some of Colbert’s wisecracks in an effort to keep the conversation focused on his book. “They’re supposed to be training this wonderful leadership class. ... The real problem is not with the colleges so much, it’s what kids have to do to get there. They just jump through one hoop after another, so they become perfectionists. They become conformists.”

“So we have all these kids who are great at getting A’s, great at extracurriculars, but not great at figuring out what’s going to give them a sense of meaning and purpose in life, to make them the leaders their colleges are supposedly preparing them [to be],” the author added.

Deresiewicz taught English at Yale for 10 years, and his critique of elite higher education has been making waves, though not without rebuttal.

Colbert’s five-minute segment and jokes didn’t leave much time for serious discussion of the book. But then, Colbert would be the first to admit he’s not hosting C-SPAN’s “Booknotes.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.