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The Ivy League Provides the Best Trade Schools Around

Stashed in: Young Americans, New Yorker, Harvard

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Some critics, like Joshua Rothman in the New Yorker, think that Deresiewicz is pinning too much of the blame for modern maladies on colleges and universities: 

Busyness, materialism, hunger for prestige, and purposelessness are not caused by contemporary education. He thinks they are larger problems of cultural modernity that go back at least 100 years. Rothman is right to notice older precedents for current conditions, but he doesn’t go back nearly far enough.

Many of the fundamental themes in Deresiewicz’s book were already familiar topics of debate in ancient Greece. And while it’s tempting to exonerate institutions by ascribing social ills to the broad and nebulous forces of modernity, Rothman misses the subtleties of Deresiewicz’s thesis and underestimates the central cultural role of school. This book is not about school in the narrow sense; it’s about the nature of a good life and the ways in which the influence of parents, teachers, peers, and places of learning can hinder or promote such a life.

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