"Merit" Today: Curiosity
Interviewed earlier this week by On Point, William Deresiewicz, author of "Excellent Sheep," talked at length about how too many top schools are failing their students.
Asked at one point what a reformed merit-based admissions process would look like, he said it would focus far less on achievement driven, academically rigid accomplishments and take, rather, a hard look at the applicant's curiosity, adding that curiosity and resilience were tied to future satisfaction in life and careers.
That sounds about right to us.
Reviewing the book, the New York Times made a similar point recently. "The Lower Ambitions of Higher Education:"
Mr. Deresiewicz spends a long time considering college admissions because a vast number of crimes, he suggests, are committed in its name. We’ve created kids who throughout their high school years are unable to do anything they can’t put on a résumé. They’re blinkered overachievers.
Once they’re in college, they don’t know what to do with themselves, so they jump through the only hoop that’s bathed in a spotlight: finance. He argues that many miss truer and more satisfying callings....
Little of what Mr. Deresiewicz has to say is entirely new. Ezra Pound got there first, 80 years ago, with the metaphor that supplies this book with its title. Real education must be limited to those who insist on knowing, Pound said in his book “ABC of Reading.” "The rest is merely sheepherding.”
My ears always perk when "those kids" rate a mention, but with its endless information churn and the tortured expertise of fault finding, of one-upsmanship and of unmasking error, "blinkered overachievement" seems to curse adult life and work as well.
It's not what you know, but what you do with what you know that matters.
So I couldn't help but relate Deresiweicz' view to the mission of the IdeaFestival, which is to cultivate curiosity, not self-satisfaction, to insist on knowing, not informing, to think anew, as we seek an entree with the people and institutions in our own lives, about the objects of our choosing and the activities that have meaning. Succeed at that and all the work will be worth it.
Deresiweicz, by the way, delivered an incredible address on leadership and self-knowledge to West Point Plebes in 2010. It's a must read.
I hope to see you at IdeaFestival 2014! Stay curious.
Image of John Barker speaking at IdeaFestival 2012, Geoff Oliver Bugbee.