The Lower Ambitions of Higher Education

Dwight Garner:

Are you a HYPSter? That’s William Deresiewicz’s term, in his new book, for Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, though it seems more idiomatic to apply that acronym to these schools’ graduates. With HYPSters, and with the recent graduates of the tier of elite American colleges a rung or two below them, he is unimpressed.

Far too many are going into the same professions, notably finance or consulting. He detects a lack of curiosity, of interesting rebellion, of moral courage, of passionate weirdness. We’ve spawned a generation of polite, striving, praise-addicted, grade-grubbing nonentities — a legion of, as his title puts it, “Excellent Sheep.”

Books like this one, volumes that probe the sick soul of American higher education, come and go, more than a few of them hitting the long tail of the best-seller lists. As a class of books, they’re almost permanently interesting, at least if you work in or around education, or if you, like me, have kids who are starting to freak out about their SATs.