Excellent Sheep? Better Shepherds

World Civ class in actionMuch has been said and written about William Deresiewicz’s recent book Excellent Sheep and the accompanying articles that variously lambaste or defend the Ivy League—which, of course, includes only EIGHT colleges.  But having just completed our first two weeks of the school year at Williston, it’s hard for me not to weigh in.

The point of Mr. Deresiewicz’s attack seems to be the lock-step fashion in which ambitious teenagers march in pursuit of Ivy Gold. Clearly, such generalizations, even when applied to the often highly focused students found on the campuses of New England boarding schools, do a real disservice to our educational missions.

Williston students are well known to be authentic individuals, eschewing cookie-cutter molds and easy categories.  They take seriously their teachers focus on critical reasoning skills  and independent thinking.   When they graduate, Williston students spread far and wide geographically, and from all I can see, they retain these values and mindsets throughout their college careers.

The phrase “excellent sheep” connotes  an attitude or mindset. There’s nothing at all sheep-like about a Williston student, not now, and certainly not in the past (if the alumni stories which I hear  from across the generations are any indication). If anything, Williston students are more like shepherds, a simile that, for me, denotes leadership, reflection, resilience, and a healthy pursuit of clearly defined goals.

Individuality, in fact,  is one of Williston’s core values, and our graduates who attend the colleges that Mr. Deresiewicz spotlights will surely never be lost in the flock.