Beyond The States
Should I go to college in Europe? We'll help you answer this.

Why is it important to gain insight into what college is for you as an individual? What happens if you don’t have that awareness? Moreover, what questions should you ask yourself to get that clear idea? Jenn dives into these questions to start the episode off.

Later in the episode, Jenn talks to William Deresiewicz, a former English professor at Yale University, an essayist, a literary critic, and an author of best-selling books, A Jane Austen Education and Excellent Sheep. Take a listen to this week’s episode and find out who is an excellent sheep, the unintended impact the US admissions process has on students throughout life, and how to avoid these pitfalls. Furthermore, you will discover whether a school’s reputation impacts future earnings, why faculty at most US universities are discouraged from spending time teaching, the problems of educational and residential-class segregation, and much more! 

“As a result of the excellence that students have been forced to demonstrate, always doing what grown-ups want them to do, never having time to think about what they want, what they are good at, what they care about, they become sheep.” William Deresiewicz

Podcast Transcript –

Intro: You’re listening to the Beyond the States podcast with Jenn Viemont. Did you know that you can go to Europe and get your entire degree taught in English for less than one year of tuition at many American schools? Jenn will take you on a deep dive into the many benefits and options around English-taught higher education in Europe, helping to make the possibility less foreign.

Jenn Viemont: So today we’re going to talk to the author of one of my very favorite books. It’s called “Excellent Cheap.” And you’re going to hear us talk about so much I can touch on here we talk about the effect the crazy US admissions process has on kids after graduation, we talked about the trouble they have identifying their passions and, and just so much more. But one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot since our conversation is the importance of students knowing the answer to what is college for for you. So if you’ve listened to our last episode, you know that my daughter Ellie is having a lot of trouble with this question right now, which is leading to some uncertainty about what she’ll do next year. Sam had a pretty clear idea of it, he knew that he wanted to be treated like an adult. With independence, he knew he wanted to be around a diverse group of people. He wanted to be able to travel and have a curriculum focused on his interest areas. I was certainly on board with this, we were on the same page. And the school you went to his first year Lydon fit all of this as well. But what he hadn’t accounted for, which he didn’t know was number one, how much she would hate economics, and also his desire for more practical information rather than the theory focused. So since that was out of whack, it didn’t end up being a good fit for him. And honestly, he moved to a second school because he liked how the Netherlands fit many of the aspects of what college is for him, and didn’t really seek to find one that incorporated all of it, it didn’t have the curriculum focused on his interest areas, like the first school did. So without it, meeting all of his needs, it also wouldn’t be a good fit. So there are times a charm, he’s finally at a place that meets all of his criteria. But his journey showed me the importance of really knowing the answer to this question, and pursuing a place that meets all of these needs. So certainly, you know, budget and area of study are an important part of the equation. But there’s so much more than that. So luckily the school for him is AAU, they do accept credit transfer. So it’s not like the two year are wasted and he’ll end up graduating after four years total. And honestly, I don’t see the Euro of loss credits as a waste since they taught him so much. And tuition was affordable. So, you know, it didn’t feel like oh, we spent all that just for some insight. You know, it was a valuable experience. So I saw a lot of students starting to attend AAU this year where Sam is part of the reason they had this huge influx of American students is due to the popular tick tock account of lies. She was one of our first beyond the state’s members and recently graduated from the school and has a tick tock account medieval tick tock page account, I don’t know I don’t really understand tick tock yet. But she provides a ton of great information to students. And of course, it’s based on her experiences living in Prague and going to AAU. And so I think too many people thought that since AAU is right for Liza, it’d be right for them to have or when they got there, many of them realize this wasn’t the case. And I know of a number who have left already midway through the first semester, not because there’s something wrong with the school, but because there’s just not the fit. I really do believe that had the answer the question what is college for, for me, they might not have attended in the first place, because there’s just no one school. That’s right for everyone. So it’s really just, it’s not just a matter. I mean, this takes a good amount of insight, looking at what college is for you. Maybe it’s about preparing you for a profession with practical knowledge. Maybe it’s about getting a really broad or flexible education. Maybe it’s about starting from day one in your area of interest, like your major. Maybe it’s about being around a diverse set of people. Or maybe you need to have a certain number of people around you who have a similar background. Maybe you want to explore more of the world or be within a certain travel time to get home easily. Maybe it’s about total independence, or maybe there are certain supports that you know you need in place to succeed. There’s really no right or wrong answer to this. It’s just a place to start exploring and questioning. It’s almost like using this information to make a mission statement for yourself which I know it’s cheesy but kind of helpful. Sam’s educational mission statement might be something like college for me is to have the independence needed to learn how to be an adult to explore the world in the classroom and out there. Have a diverse set of friends and learn about the world and International Relations in a practical way that prepares me for a career. Of course, he’d never used those words or stayed in like that would probably make fun of me for doing so. But he could use this insight as a student to seek out experiences, academic and otherwise, that are aligned with this statement. Ellie is not even close to being able to answer this question, which is why we’re thinking about a gap year, gaining perspective and insight into her own values, her own needs and her preferences are going to help her determine where she wants to attend. And we’ll also help her intentionally craft her experiences once she starts her studies. So let’s take a quick break and come back with the interview with Bill Dershowitz.

Testimonial: Hello, my name is Tamra, I am from Florida, and I’m in my first year at the Burgundy School of Business in France. And I found my university from the Beyond the State’s database and membership. I’ve always been interested in studying abroad or foreign exchange programs. But I always felt like I never had that opportunity as it was always perceived to be unaffordable. No one I knew or any of my educational advisors understood this process and lacked knowledge on how to make this a possibility. Through my beyond the states membership. I learned everything I could about how to study abroad and actually provided resources and connections to make this process achievable. I found beyond the states through Tiktok video and was convinced to invest in the monthly membership plan. And that decision alone changed my life. Through the Q and A’s monthly University and country updates and the Facebook group chat I’ve not only been able to get this opportunity to study abroad, but also make some amazing friends who are studying in Europe as well. If you’re even slightly interested in studying abroad, I suggest you check out beyond the states to get started. The free blogs and interest quiz will be enough to make you desire this opportunity and the database access will leave you with no regrets. Check the show notes for details in the link or go to the Services page on beyond the

Jenn Viemont: So today we are talking to William Deresiewicz. He’s a former Yale English professor. He is an essayist, a literary critic, and author of a Jane Austen education, as well as his new book, which is the death of the artist how creators are struggling to survive in the age of billionaires and big tech and one of my very favorite books, The New York Times bestseller, excellent sheep, The Miseducation of the American elite and the way to a meaningful life. Bill. Thanks so much for being here.

William Deresiewicz: Thanks. Thanks for having me on.

Jenn Viemont: So I mentioned to you before, I really really love the book, Excellent Cheap, when I first read it when it first came out. And I just reread it in preparation for this interview and loved it just as much and was finding myself flagging and highlighting new pages that struck me in ways different than when I initially read it. So can you explain a little bit about what you mean by the phrase, excellent sheep?

William Deresiewicz: Sure, that’s a great way to start explaining what the book is about. And I should say that it’s a phrase that came from one of my students at Yale in a moment of kind of startled, collective self recognition. She said, Are we all just excellent sheep? Students who get into selective colleges are certainly excellent, in the sense, not necessarily that they’ve learned a lot or that they’re capable of self educating or that they’re curious or that they have a lot of the thinking abilities that even maybe employers will want, but that they’ve been really good at, quote, unquote, demonstrating excellence by jumping through all the hoops and checking all the boxes, you know, acing their, their courses. Yes. But what does that mean now to get an A in a course, especially in the gauge of grade inflation, even in high school, doing all the extracurriculars but again, I mean, it’s become such a ridiculous arms race of extracurriculars that what does that mean? I’m sure we’ll talk about that more. And as a result of this excellence that they’ve been, I would say, forced to demonstrate growing up in their high achieving high pressure, middle class, upper middle class communities. Always doing what the grownups want them to do, always jumping through the next tube successfully, never having time to think about what they want, what they’re good at, what they care about. Never having time really to think. I mean, so relentless, or the demand so incessant, are they that they also become sheep, in the sense that they don’t know how to choose a life for themselves? And I saw this with my students at Yale, and I’ve heard stories from literally hundreds, if not 1000s of students over the many years through the years, many years now that I’ve been writing about this, and it’s, it’s really sad.

Jenn Viemont: Yeah. Wow, there’s so many follow up questions I have just based on that answer, and they’re so unattainable, the standards that they’re trying to achieve, because even if you have a perfect fit score, there’s gonna be somebody else who has more luck. For curriculars, and you if it’s to be the best, there’s always somebody who’s better in some category. 

William Deresiewicz: The fact that there’s always in theory, somebody better is part of the psychological profile, which ends up being this kind of cycle of grandiosity and depression, as psychologists have described it, like, you get an A, you think you’re the greatest person in the world, you get an A minus, or a 98. And you think you’re worthless. And this is a very pernicious psychological cycle that people enter into, and sometimes never get out of. And in that sense, what you’re saying is that you never you’re you know, there’s, however, will you do you never think you’re doing well enough. But it certainly is the case that there’s some number of students, it’s a very small number of students, who would you know, who sort of get the brass ring, the golden dozen colleges, but at what cost? Right at what cost?

Jenn Viemont: And you put it really wonderfully in your book, I want to quote this, because I just, I’ve quoted a lot, and I’ll just continue doing so you talk about how the purpose of life becomes the accumulation of gold stars, hints to relentless extracurricular business, the neglect of learning is an engine itself, the inability to imagine doing something that you can’t put on your resume, hence, the constant sense of competition. I just love that. Yeah. What effect do you see this having on kids during high school, when they get into college, and potentially even afterwards? Yeah,

William Deresiewicz: I mean, just to focus on this inability to engage in learning for its own sake. I mean, I’ve visited now many high schools, spoken many high schools, and I’ve had teachers tell me and high school teachers tend to be really, especially at these private schools, or well resourced public schools, they’re often very committed, compassionate, and really smart people. And it just makes them so sad, because you know, a math teacher telling me about how he wants his students to love math, for its own sake, see, its beauty and its elegance and its rigor. And it’s just impossible to get them to focus on that, because all they care about is their grade. They’re too busy. Also, to really kind of delve into any particular subject students have told me about studying in class, meaning they’re studying for one class while they’re in another class. Okay, this is right. When they get to college, I’ve had a professor at one of the top 10 liberal arts colleges just tell me that her favorite student that year, a brilliant young woman, literally said to her, I don’t have time for intellectual passion. I wish I did, but I just don’t. So that’s a piece of it. I know this, this sounds like a cliche, but it’s a real thing, like not being able to figure out who you are, it’s really, really important for not even just satisfaction in life. But if we just want to talk about success, even success in life, to figure out what you care about and what you’re good at. And those are the two questions that I want students to ask, What do I care about? And what do I not? What do I want? Well, status, prestige admissions even make the world a better place. I think that that can be a problematic way to think about things because it can be very restrictive. What do I care about? And what am I good at? And you certainly cannot answer that first question. If you’re only doing what the grownups tell you to do, and you get to college, and then there’s a whole new set of expectations. You know, it’s so sad to me, I’ve heard seniors who are about to go off to college, or freshmen who just got to college, tell me, oh, college is going to be different. Now that I’m in, I’m going to be able to study what I love and have fun. And it’s sad, because I know that they’re going to find out in a few weeks. That’s not true within a few weeks of getting to college, because then you start to hear about, well, you got to get an internship this summer, if you want to get an internship next summer so that you can get a job after you graduated at a prestigious investment bank or consultancy, or you have to study economics, or you have to take these classes if you want to go to law school. So students, you know, the same psychological dynamic they’ve already been trained in, find the next hoop and jump through, it immediately locks into place again. And once they get out of college, if they do continue on this path, it’s just going to be more of the same and more of the same and more of the same. And this is how you get adults in their 40s who, first of all, feel completely burned out, feel like they are living the wrong life, feel like their job may pay them a lot but doesn’t engage them seems meaningless. They don’t know what went wrong. They wish they had studied something else in college, studied what they really wanted to study instead of what everyone was telling them to study. So the time to start dealing with this. It’s not when you’re 45 or 25 or 20. But ideally, when you’re still in high school.

Jenn Viemont: And you talk about this in your book about it. You see, young people aren’t trained to pay attention to the things that they feel connected too. And so if there’s this constant hoop jumping, they’re not going to find that passion. So what can we as parents of teenagers, I have a 17 year old that she’s pretty good about her passion areas, right? And she’s, but we’ve been working on that for a couple of years. What would you said the parents can do to help connect them to being aware of what, like you said, what they want out of life, or even out of college?

William Deresiewicz: Listen, I want to say, first of all, that I know that this is really hard for parents. And I’ve spoken to a lot of parent groups, both in the context of high schools and outside of high schools, and parents are doing this, they’re sort of sending their kids through the system, because they think it’s the best for them. I mean, that’s the main reason there are other maybe less good reasons like wanting to get the window stickers to put in your car. But mainly, it’s because you think it’s the best for your kid. And you think that if you don’t do this, in a very competitive economy, that seems increasingly to be sorted into a relatively small number of winners and a lot of losers, that you’re really setting your kid up for failure in life if you don’t do it. I don’t agree with that. But I understand that that’s where parents are coming from. And I say all this because I think my first and most important recommendation is you have to think about whether you want your kid to be in this environment. Do you want them to be in this kind of high school? Do you want them to be in this kind of community? And if you’re not able, for one reason or another to take them out, or you think that you just you shouldn’t, then you need to take a very active role in helping them manage the pressures and expectations that come from being in that kind of environment. And you have to really mean it. Right. As I say, in the book, quoting the great Madeline Levine, who’s written books is she’s an adolescent therapist, and he’s written books about this, like the price of privilege. Kids know when parents are blessing. And when they say, Oh, just do your best, but they don’t really mean Just do your best. So you need to give kids that sort of moral and psychological support. But I also think that you need to give them time. There’s a great organization that Madeline Levine and others are part of called Challenge Success, based out of California, that’s trying to change the culture in the schools. And they talked about PDF, which is playtime, downtime, and family time. These are things that kids don’t get, and they get less and less of as they get, you know, as they continue through K through 12. Play time, downtime, and family time. I don’t think that you need to, like do some elaborate dance to help your kid discover their passion. Kids have passions, even adults have passions, but especially despite that they tend to be buried under lots of cares and responsibilities. But kids have passions. Kids have curiosity. Kids are designed to go out and explore the world in their own unique ways. What they need is the chance to do it. They need playtime, downtime and family time, which they don’t get. Right. All they get now is study time.

Jenn Viemont: I could not agree more. And it’s interesting. I write a lot about the impact the different admissions process in Europe had on my family in particular, my son is 20. And we knew from the time he was going into high school that he wanted to take this alternate route. So we were able to opt out even though he was at we live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the public school even the public schools very, very a lot of academics. Yeah, yeah. And definitely the the culture is that of students being pushed into highly selective universities. And we were able to opt out of that. And it definitely took a lot of strength because there was a counselor’s, you know, saying, Well, shouldn’t he get a perfectly fine ACT score? And they’re like, shouldn’t he retake it? No, he doesn’t need to, you know, shouldn’t he take more than the four APs? Nope, doesn’t need to. But because of that he was able to, you know, we had dinner as a family. on weeknights, he had dinner with my father once a week. And they played cards and just talked about the world. And he was able to pursue Arabic not as a academic topic to put on his resume, but but in his free time and then went on a program in Morocco, not again, not for, yeah, it was just fantastic. It was just he worked at Harris Teeter, which was not a glamorous job. I don’t know if you have that there’s just our local grocery store. not glamorous, but taught him so much a great learning experience. Absolutely. And none of this was anything I was doing as a parent, I wasn’t like you should work at Harris Teeter, because it’s gonna really, you know, teach you this or that. It was just letting him like you said, letting him find his path and not letting the pressures of the world get in the way of that path.

William Deresiewicz: Obviously, I haven’t met your son but I will say that when I go to colleges, high school, sometimes even with little kids, when I meet a kid who has the kind of confidence that I’m sure your son has that comes from knowing that they can figure things out for themselves like that. First of all, figure out what they want to do, then figure out how to do it, the kind of richness of experience that you just described, you know, his grandfather, a regular minimum wage or low wage job that teaches you to interact with all kinds of other people that teaches you to take responsibilities in a way that schoolwork doesn’t help you do. They just keep kids like, that just seems sort of like more self actualized I think that’s the best word more self actualized. And they don’t have that horrible thing that we call self esteem. I mean, maybe they do but, but it’s so different being self actualized being like, feeling like a full real person at whatever, you know, in whatever age appropriate way that is, feels so different from so many of the kids, and I loved my students at Yale, I loved them. But so many of the kids I met there who just seemed shell shocked. And we could only wait around to be told what to do. I mean, they would come, I was the kind of professor and there aren’t a lot of them, who invited students to come and talk to me. So I really heard their stories. And I saw them like kind of curl up in the chair and like, you know, kind of almost curl up in a ball because they were so they felt helpless. I felt helpless.

Jenn Viemont: And so many of them. And because again, because we knew we didn’t have to do this resume building experience, it was okay to make mistakes, any team has made many, many, many, many mistakes. And all of those have allowed him to grow, and learn something really important and also learn that when you make mistakes, you know, he would just do it in exactly. He had to go to the embassy in Amsterdam, the American Embassy nine times to get his passport renewed, because of lack of attention to detail. And because you know, we weren’t over the shoulder doing it for him. And I’ll tell you what, that’ll teach an important lesson.

William Deresiewicz: Right, as opposed to you doing it for and no less than except that he’s helpless?

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely, absolutely. So I think different people, depending on you know, their community and everything else, they might have different views of what they see, as a top tier university, you know, for some, it might be their flagship state school, it might be an IV, it might be whatever. Many people equate selectivity rate with something being top tier, which to me is crazy. But that’s a different topic. But anyway, a lot of these parents do think like you were just saying that it’s crucial for their kid to get into their version of the top tier university. And like we were just talking about, they feel like they have to compete, or there’s going to be just these dire consequences to the kids future. So what can parents do to adjust these false beliefs and also to help their kids not buy into it? Because it’s not just at home? You know, the kids are? Like I said, they’re getting it from the counselors from the schools. But primarily, I feel like is that home? The parents are not buying into it helps the kids not buy into it. So what can they do to alter those?

William Deresiewicz: Okay, so the first thing I would say, and I can send you a link to a story about this, there was a study that was done some years ago, the results were so startling that the researchers redid it with a much larger sample, because people had so much trouble believing it. If you look at, say kids who graduate from Princeton versus kids who graduate from Penn State, the average Princeton graduate makes a lot more money. What they wanted to know was, what if we found kids? What if we sort of matched a kid who went to Princeton with a kid who went to Penn State, but could have gone to Princeton? Because we know they could have gone because they got in? And it wasn’t just those two schools, it was a whole bunch of schools. So that’s what they did. They looked at the data that way. And they found there was no difference. No difference in future earnings, meaning, let’s get the first concern out of the way, is my kid going to do decent, you know, is they’re going to survive financially. It’s not about the school they go to. It’s about who your kid is. That’s the first thing. The second thing I would say is, I don’t think that you could just go to any school, I think there’s some pretty lousy schools. I think the quality of your peers in school, do matter, does matter. But I would also say, you don’t have to worry about finding the perfect college for you. There isn’t just one perfect College. There are many schools that are going to be good schools for you. And I think that can take some of the pressure off. You don’t have to get into one of the name brand schools. You don’t have to get into just one perfect school that you’re going to find for yourself that maybe isn’t the name brand school. But yes, I think you do need to put some thought into it. And it’s an incredibly intimidating, screwed up system. Okay, because we have, I think close to 3004 year colleges in this country. I’m not even counting community colleges. How do you start to make decisions on that basis? And a lot of the choice process can be really arbitrary. Like, I know someone who went to the school or it’s a school in a neighboring state, or somebody told me that his nephew had applied to the final for NCAA basketball final for that.

Jenn Viemont: I got one for you. Yeah, I have a friend whose daughter applied to a school because when they visited, she saw they had a chocolate fountain. Okay, right.

William Deresiewicz: Yes, yes. And or just they just liked the vibe, right? I mean, I’m not against liking the vibe, but the whole college tour thing tends to be ridiculous. First of all, you take these stupid tours, that EG, you know, it’s they’re useless, right, the actual tour that you take at the school. Also students almost never sit in on classes, right? I mean, that’s got to be the most important thing you do, right. But to break down to confront more directly the rankings mania, it helps to know first of all, that the rankings are full of all kinds of components that many of which are sort of meaningless. Some of them have to do just with how wealthiest school is the biggest component is reputational score. Yep. Which means that ranking is completely self reinforcing. Because what’s reputational score based on it’s based on the rankings, so it just feeds the rankings back into itself. Malcolm Gladwell had about this in the New Yorker was it was now quite a few years ago, but I think it was there that I read about that experiment where they sent a reputational rankings to law school, Dean’s. And Penn State was on the list. And Penn State got kind of an average score, because you know, it’s Penn State, it’s sort of an average school. But Penn State didn’t have a law school then. Because people, they have a million things to do they just quickly fill out these rankings. They’re not thinking about it. So you have to de-fetishize the rankings. Also, I mean, the distinction between number five and number 55, is insignificant, let alone number five and number six. So I mean, I think there are hundreds of really good colleges in this country. And then you have to know, you know, what are you going to school for? I mean, the top Well, the top ranked schools that we talk about our research universities, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, blah, blah, blah. Research universities are places where faculty are incentivized to spend as little time as possible on their students. Other schools, like liberal arts colleges, or even community colleges, which can often be a great option for the first couple of years are places where teachers spend much more time with their students.

Jenn Viemont: Can you speak to that a little bit? I it’s, you explained it very well in your book, but why is it that at research universities in the US, faculty is discouraged from spending much time teaching or with students?

William Deresiewicz: I should say, first of all, that unfortunately, this is a problem throughout academia, and even at liberal arts colleges, professors are part of the same system, but it’s especially a problem at research universities, you have to understand and it kills me, right? I mean, so many kids, a third of the country, whatever goes through college, and there’s so little understanding unless you’re an academic yourself of, of how academia works, what are these institutions that you’re sending your kids into? College is this black box, right? Okay. So, research universities are in the business of research. Professors are rewarded are hired, promoted, retained tenured and reworded exclusively, on the basis of the research, whatever the schools like to say, publish or perish, the more you publish, and the more prestigious your publications, the more money you’re going to make, the higher status you’re going to have. This is how academics are socialized from the time they entered graduate school. This is what they care about. I can tell you stories and anecdotes of people who’ve been literally told not to spend their time on teaching. I think I mentioned in the book, somebody I know, who’s a professor at Stanford who won a teaching award when he was before he got tenure. And at the award ceremony, the provost leaned over to him and said, Don’t worry, this is really a good thing. And he didn’t even know what he was talking about. The truth is, and I think it was the head of the Carnegie Endowment who said this, winning the teaching award can often be the kiss of death at tenured time, it tells your colleagues that you are not sufficiently dedicated single mindedly dedicated to your research. Wow. Yes, which is why most professors, especially at research universities, will not give their undergraduates the time of day. They are often seen only at the other end of a large lecture hall and your actual contact is with graduate students or postdocs, or adjuncts, liberal arts colleges, as they said, unfortunately, it’s an Not a perfect dichotomy, because the professors, they are a part of the same system, but they are places that tend to incentivize teaching much more. They are not research universities, they don’t have graduate students, they don’t have graduate programs. And the same is true of community colleges. Teachers can be overworked there, but they are incentivized exclusively on the basis of your teaching. There’s almost no research requirement there at all. Or I should say, more and more families, middle class families have said to me that they are taking the community college option, even though and you know, it sounds like this kind of social disgrace for financial reasons, you know, two years of community college and then and then you can go on to the state flagship, or if this is, you know, in California, especially, that’s more and more common, you know, whatever, whatever the option might be.

Jenn Viemont: Yeah. And you can see that I mean, especially since the first two years, and universities are often Ginette requirements, that are such a kind of mishmash of different topics paying dramatically less for that could certainly make sense

William Deresiewicz: To me, it pains me in my ideal world college would be free college would be free college would be great. Kids in K through, you know, K through 12, funding would be reallocated. So the kids from lower income families would have a better chance of not only getting into college, but thriving in a liberal arts environment. Gen Ed requirements would be taken a lot more seriously. I mean, Gen Ed is sort of this decayed version of the kind of core curriculum that we used to have. And I think we need to go back to even if we can change what the Canon was, I think core curriculum requirements are really good. But as things stand, the reality is that community colleges a lot cheaper Gen Ed requirements are often a menu of really lousy classes. And you weren’t necessarily losing anything by doing your first two years at a community college.

Jenn Viemont: Well, I think it goes back to what you just said, is students and families really figuring out what is college for for me, is that you know, there’s not and that’s one thing I talked about a lot. I don’t think there’s one right or wrong answer. Harvard absolutely might be the right answer for one student, and unity college might be for another and you know, Europe might be for another and you know, there are so many options around the world. That can be great. If you just know how to answer that question. You know, what do I want out of college? What? What is college for?

William Deresiewicz: What it’s for? What is college for me? I absolutely agree. I mean, it’s, as things stand for so many kids. It’s just an assembly line. Yeah. of unquestioned expectations. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s also and also because you haven’t thought that question through, you also don’t know when you get to college, how to navigate it in a proactive way that’s going to help you get what you want. And you’re against buffeted by all the basically by the campus rumor mill, the sort of peer to peer, you know what the seniors tell the juniors tell the sophomores tell the freshmen about how you should go through college.

Jenn Viemont: Right, right. As opposed to use a net say, here’s what I want us to go to college for. And here’s how I’m going to get that. Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

William Deresiewicz: And therefore, having much more of an ability to say, you know, I’m not going to major in econ, just because everybody’s telling me to do that. And I don’t actually care about becoming a management consultant, which I’ve never even heard of until a week ago. But suddenly everybody wants to do it.

Jenn Viemont: Right. It’s funny. My My stepfather is a professor at the University of Chicago, an economics professor. And my son couldn’t pass economics to save his life in college. It just, it pains my stepfather to to see that, but I was actually kind of not well,

William Deresiewicz: And let me say I’m not against people majoring economics, if they love economics, certainly certainly economics hasn’t become the most popular major over the last 2030 years. Because suddenly everybody discovered a love Reagan up,

Jenn Viemont: Right? Because it’s such a fun topic. Yeah. So one of my favorite parts of your book, is you said that you had people write to you, students, young people write to you saying, How can I avoid becoming an out of touch entitled, little shit? And it’s absolutely one of my favorite parts of your book. And I wish more young people ask this of themselves and of others around them. But again, if we’re talking about younger students, high schoolers who certainly don’t have that level of insight yet, what can we as parents do before they have that insight to make sure they don’t become out of touch entitled little chips?

William Deresiewicz: Well, listen, part of the problem is the residential segregation and I don’t mean racial segregation, residential class segregation, and educational class segregation that we’ve increasingly had in this country. And so kids grew up in this bubble, and I don’t blame them for it. They don’t even know that they’re in a bubble. And sometimes efforts to break out of the bubble can be horribly Miska. I didn’t condescending I mean, you don’t want to, you don’t want to go and be a white Messiah. Right? Go to Guatemala and think that you’re gonna save the world? Absolutely. You need or I mean, you know, or we’re in when you’re in college, you know, students would say, Well, I would, you know, sit down with a cafeteria worker and ask them, and it’s like, yeah, right. It’s nauseating, and well intentioned, but just okay. So the only really way to do it is to meet people as equals, to treat them as equals to meet them as equals. I think working in a grocery store in a supermarket or in a Denny’s whatever, would be a great way to do that. Yeah, I think it’s I think that could be I think, in many ways, I mean, I don’t want to make one blanket suggestion, like, have your kid do service work job, but I actually think it’s great. And I mean, when I was in high school, I didn’t. But a number of my friends did it was, I think, much more common because you didn’t have the pressure to do all the extracurriculars and all the NPS, and you wanted some spending money. Well, so that’s one thing, right? I mean, why would a kid want spending money, because their parents are giving them the spending money that they want, and that incentive, that would incentivize that. And then you go out and make your way in the world, even in that, you know, sort of training wheels kind of way where you’re coming back at home, and you’re only working 10 hours a week, or whatever it is, but you’re beginning to kind of be buffeted by the world and in a good way, and you’re learning that people who don’t go to great colleges or any colleges are often really smart, sometimes in ways that are different from you, sometimes in ways that are the same. And then you see how other people live, and how much less they get, even though they’re no less worthy than you. And I think that that addresses the entitlement piece of it. And we’ve already talked about the out of touch piece of it. I would imagine that there are other kinds of experiences other than doing that kind of wage work that would help teach those lessons. I don’t know what they are. But I assume that there are programs like that, that might also may be there. You know, church related, or I don’t know, the Boy Scouts

Jenn Viemont: It’s true, I think it’s hard to think outside of wage related. I grew up on the Southside of Chicago, and I was very active in community service and volunteering in a number of things. But the lessons I’ve learned there were very different than what I learned as a waitress at Nicky’s diner on the corner of Belmont and Broadway. You know what I just talked about it for an introduction for another podcast episode. Because here I was, again, it’s seeing a whole different group of people as equals, and serving them. Coffee is my job, you know, not volunteer, we’re not I’m here to help you. But here’s my job. I’m going to pour your coffee, and I’m going to learn how to communicate. And I’m going to learn all about people outside of my bubble. And that’s not the same sort of learning that I had in volunteer work. The volunteer was still very valuable, but not in the same way.

William Deresiewicz: Yeah, I think it’s great. And then when you earn your own money, you learn the value of money. Absolutely. And dollars that you make, you’re gonna spend a lot more carefully than than $10. Your mother hands you?

Jenn Viemont : Isn’t that the truth? So I was just wondering about this. What was it that inspired you to write this book and write about this topic?

William Deresiewicz: My students? Yeah, my students. You know, I mean, years of hearing these stories and hearing from alumni from graduates who were struggling through their 20s. And then I wrote an essay about it. In 2008. It was coincidentally as I was leaving academia, but I didn’t really think too many people would pay attention to the essay. And the people I imagined reading it were fellow academics. And like, within a few days, within a few days, I started to hear from students. And I think within a month or two, it had been read 100,000 times. Wow. And I was getting dozens and dozens and dozens of emails. And then within a few months, I started this, you know, being invited to speak at schools. So it was I realized, like, wow, this is really a thing, right? The one thing that wasn’t in the original essay that was in the emails, that really motive, I think the thing that most motivated me to turn this into a book was how unhappy the kids were. I actually didn’t realize that because even the students who confided in me, like I said, I mean, I knew that they kind of felt lost or frustrated, but the depth, the depth of unhappiness, they conceal even for me, because one of the aspects of being this high achieving kid now is that you don’t show how unhappy you are. And that’s when I started reading people like Madeline Levine, the price of privilege and Denise school, and I found out that people have already started talking about this, but the emails like It could be like pages long, like really heartfelt, you know, pouring out your soul. And not even like with a happy ending, right? Because these were kids who were still in mostly 50s still in college, right? They were just in it.

Jenn Viemont: So can you tell me a little bit about your new book my play Kristin, who set up this interview for us, she is raving about how much she wants to read it. So can you tell us a little bit?

William Deresiewicz: To talk about it? Absolutely. It’s called the death of the artist, how creators are struggling to survive in the age of billionaires and big tech, it’s another very long so it’s really my attempt to answer the question of how are artists managing to make a living now, given that the internet has taken so much money away from musicians, writers, people who do photography or film basically anything that can be digitized. I also talked about, you know, people who do like painting and sculpture and stuff. And that’s in some ways, a different set of issues. But the vast majority of creative work is now quote unquote, content and content is free. And how do people manage and it’s different from excellent, cheap, and that I really set out with a very big kind of research program, I ended up interviewing over 140 people, mostly young artists, between 25 and 40, just asking them for their stories, just gathering story after story. Also a lot of statistics, a lot of big picture stuff. And it’s a sobering picture, because things are really hard. But it’s also meant to be, it’s not a how to in the sense that I say here, the 10 steps to follow. But I tell a lot of the stories of these 140 people, I have two dozen mini profiles, you know, six, music, six writing since six, film and etc. And they’re all managing somehow, I mean, some of them are doing very well, some of them are just barely keeping it together. But they’re all full time artists, they’re all managing. And so you get a lot of different ideas about how it might work for you. Because one important reality is that, unlike, say, a doctor or lawyer or other employed professional, every artist does it differently. Everybody has their own particular mix of how you put together a living doing what you love to do. So you need there isn’t going to be one solution. You just need a lot of ideas. I also have a chapter on art school, and whether you should go and issues about art school. What I would say, I’m not sure I say this explicitly in the book, although I think I imply it is if you’re a young artist, and you’re wondering whether you should try to do this thing that you know is going to be really hard. Well, actually, the first part of the book, the first point of the book is to alert young people to the fact that it is going to be hard. I don’t want to brag on my blurbs. But Rosanne Cash gave me a blurb. And she said it’s the most refreshing wake up call for young artists that she’s ever read. So a wake up call. But in addition to all this reality that I want people to understand, I also want them to know that they should give themselves a shot, they should give themselves a shot because I think they owe it to themselves because it could work. Because if they don’t, they’re going to be really angry, and bitter. And maybe it their parents, maybe at the world who told them don’t do this, but know that it might not work. And that by the time you get to be 30 or 35, or whatever the age is, you may well need a plan B, right. And you need to prepare yourself practically and psychologically for the fact that there’s a really good chance that it won’t work. And you might have to do it may be something that’s kind of related or that builds on skills that you have developed as an artist that are very transferable. This is a podcast for young people and their parents, like that would be the message like, don’t let the world tell you you can’t do this, but go in with open eyes.

Jenn Viemont: And think about a few stockings if you’re gonna get stuffed with this book in the holidays. It sounds great. It sounds realistic, yet also encouraging. At the same time.

William Deresiewicz: I was a literature professor, I’ve always cared about the arts and have great gratitude and esteem for artists. But it was really about their talent. And a certainly a sense that they worked hard. doing these interviews, I realized so much more about the character of an artist, the resilience, the willingness to fail and to take risks so different from the excellent sheep, who are my students, generosity of spirit, the willingness to do without the toughness. I have a whole chapter where I have like the lifecycle of the artist. It’s kind of just generic biography because I saw these patterns as I did the interviews, two things about the childhood of artists. They’re almost always discouraged, which is, and often because the school, our school systems can’t recognize their talent, can’t value their talent. It’s not even just they can’t recognize, right? Because they’re not necessarily the ones who are doing well on the tests, because the tests don’t test what they’re good at. But also, almost everyone I interviewed said that they just knew that they were going to be an artist from a very young age. So I actually believe, I don’t know if it’s genetic, right. But as a non artist, I actually believe that there is almost like an innate identity. That’s what I was just thinking, and they Yeah, and that’s why I think it’s so important to encourage these kids instead of, I mean, even like, some kids even end up getting the message that they’re dumb, because they don’t fit the traditional categories of achievement. It’s not I think there’s a higher rate of add among artists, because their brains just work differently. It’s, it’s, it’s not a liability in what they do. Right. But what they do isn’t what you what you do in a fourth grade classroom.

Jenn Viemont: Right. So interesting. Well, I’m looking forward to read again, I look forward to reading your future work to it. Like I said before, I just feel like the work you’re doing is so important and the messages that you’re getting out and really educating people about is so important. And I’m so glad you took the time to be here today.

William Deresiewicz: I’m happy to have had the chance to talk to your audience about this. Thank you so much.

Jenn Viemont: Thank you. Our special this month provides a 20% discount for the On Your Mark masterclass. I’ve been offering the class for a few years now and it always feels to capacity. The cool thing is that it’s a class for the students, not the parents and really helps them take charge of this whole process. It’s a six week course and each week has video lessons and assignments to walk them through the process of understanding why they want to study in Europe, the areas of study that align with their interests, and also teaches them a very understandable system of narrowing the you know, 3000 plus programs down to a shortlist of three to five programs that match their qualifications, their budget, their academic interests, areas, and other preferences, in addition to the content they get each week and can do on their own time. We also have video calls on Sundays, which helped them meet the other kids who are pursuing these options, something they might not have in their schools or in their community. And of course during the calls are also able to get answers from me. So check out our monthly special page for more information. The link will be in the show notes and use code December special to receive the discount