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Thursday, June 2, 2011

David Brooks’ Country-Club Valedictory: It Is About You

“Conservative” David Brooks’ column “It’s Not About You” (NYT May 30) is incomprehensible fluff until you realize its audience.

Let me quote some key passages to illustrate:

“This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history… they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role. No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness.”

So we learn from Brooks that today’s graduates, the “most supervised in American history,” are being thrust into a “decade of extreme openness.” My own impression is that today’s latch-key, single parent, web-surfing, text-messaging graduates are among the least supervised in history. I must admit I do not understand Brooks’ “decade of extreme openness.” Graduates, it appears to me, are just entering the uncertain job market characteristic of a weak economy.

After some serious thought about who might read this column, it began to make more sense. By “graduates,” Brooks has in mind graduates of elite institutions, not college graduates in general. It is they who have been “monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.” Their mothers competed for slots in elite toddler academies in Manhattan or Cambridge. It is they who have been coached and tutored in preparatory academies and by SAT coaches. They have been “honed” for admission to Stanford or Harvard.

Graduates of state schools and, even worse, junior colleges do not fit into Brooks’ picture of the country-club elite. I guess they are not the ones who count.

Now these “supervised” graduates are being thrown into a cruel world of job insecurity and, gasp, “team work.” No longer does a secure spot in Daddy’s Lehman Brothers await them.

Brooks’ advice: Instead of focusing on “finding yourself,” find a cause – a problem to solve. “It’s the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred. It’s excellence, not happiness, that we admire most.” So the greats of the past succeeded because they were willing to be miserable and friendless. They did not become great through the joy of discovery, invention or entrepreneurship.

If I had taken out student loans to graduate from a good university with a meaningful degree and David Brooks delivered this as the commencement address, I would have asked for my money back.

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