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The Assault on American Excellence

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The Assault on American Excellence PDF, ePub eBook A New York Times Editors’ Choice The former dean of Yale Law School argues that the feverish egalitarianism gripping college campuses today is out of place at institutions whose job is to prepare citizens to live in a vibrant democracy. In his tenure at Yale, Anthony Kronman has watched students march across campus to protest the names of buildings and seen colleagues resign over A New York Times Editors’ Choice The former dean of Yale Law School argues that the feverish egalitarianism gripping college campuses today is out of place at institutions whose job is to prepare citizens to live in a vibrant democracy. In his tenure at Yale, Anthony Kronman has watched students march across campus to protest the names of buildings and seen colleagues resign over emails about Halloween costumes. He is no stranger to recent confrontations at American universities. But where many see only the suppression of free speech, the babying of students, and the drive to bury the imperfect parts of our history, Kronman recognizes in these on-campus clashes a threat to our democracy. As Kronman argues in The Assault on American Excellence, the founders of our nation learned over three centuries ago that in order for this country to have a robust democratic government, its citizens have to be trained to have tough skins, to make up their own minds, and to win arguments not on the basis of emotion but because their side is closer to the truth. In other words, to prepare people to choose good leaders, you need to turn them into smart fighters, people who can take hits and think clearly so they’re not manipulated by demagogues. Kronman is the first to tie today’s campus debates back to the history of American values, drawing on luminaries like Alexis de Tocqueville and John Adams to show how these modern controversies threaten the best of our intellectual traditions. His tone is warm and optimistic, that of a humanist and a lover of the humanities who is passionate about educating students capable of living up to the demands of a thriving democracy. Incisive and wise, The Assault on American Excellence makes the radical argument that to graduate as good citizens, college students have to be tested in a system that isn’t wholly focused on being good to them.

30 review for The Assault on American Excellence

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    If this is what counts for critical thinking at Yale, I'm delighted to keep my Northwestern degree... But seriously, this is a fascinatingly bad book. Even Kronman's most nuanced arguments about Bakke, building names, or memorials are weakened by fallacious reasoning and underexamined appeals to aristocracy. A lot of the arguments boil down to a "get off my lawn" response to institutional change. Sometimes Kronman mixes it up with tired strawman bits about his "facts" (often not actua If this is what counts for critical thinking at Yale, I'm delighted to keep my Northwestern degree... But seriously, this is a fascinatingly bad book. Even Kronman's most nuanced arguments about Bakke, building names, or memorials are weakened by fallacious reasoning and underexamined appeals to aristocracy. A lot of the arguments boil down to a "get off my lawn" response to institutional change. Sometimes Kronman mixes it up with tired strawman bits about his "facts" (often not actually facts) versus other people's "feelings" (see above). I'm not going to try to pick the book apart piece by piece, but let's just take one representative example: It is true, as Kronman asserts, that for a person Y to declare that person X can never achieve any meaningful understanding of person Y's perspective because person X is not a "Y" is a conversation stopper (and a really long sentence). In its extreme form, it's also a declaration that true community is impossible between X and Y. So far... okay. The solution, however, is NOT for a professor to jump into this exchange and pronounce that "No, no! Perspective is irrelevant! We must only declare things in terms of universally accessible reason." That response ignores the very real possibility that the proffered reason (being itself the product of a selective, non-universal collection of thinkers) may insufficiently account for or address the "Y" perspective. It might even ignore "Y"s altogether. And it's just possible that "Y"s matter... to "Y"s and non-"Y"s. In other words, our "universal reason" may not be sufficiently universal to advance our current needs for critical thinking and community building in our pluralistic society at our present moment. Even if you can swallow Kronman's aristocracy argument, his is an unsustainable approach to critical thinking (unless, I suppose, you really just want to cling to your aristocratic institution and keep other people off your lawn). To be translatable into meaningful democratic engagement off-campus, the standards of reason we teach students must remain sufficiently open and challengeable to allow for the consideration and possible incorporation of "Y" perspectives. This is how communities evolve. And this is one of the many reasons why actively promoting a diverse faculty, student body, and curriculum is vital for universities as well as individuals. Yes, of course, diversity is not limited to a handful of broad categories, but if Kronman was engaging these literatures seriously he would not act as though their advocates treat them that way. Without expanding diversity of perspective, communities become insular and, ultimately, they fail. At best, students in Kronman's aristocracy bubble are less equipped to achieve the Socratic goal, which he claims to value, of knowing what they don't know.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Seems that the easiest book to get published these days is a long rant about how safe spaces and renaming buildings and complaining minorities are ruining everything. As if Bret Stephens and David Brookes repeated columns aren't enough, we need several full books of unintelligible ranting. This book is mostly that--the minorities are ruining everything with their feelings. But that's not totally fair--it's also a (weird) attempt to restore the Aristocratic tradition of excellence (that I guess t Seems that the easiest book to get published these days is a long rant about how safe spaces and renaming buildings and complaining minorities are ruining everything. As if Bret Stephens and David Brookes repeated columns aren't enough, we need several full books of unintelligible ranting. This book is mostly that--the minorities are ruining everything with their feelings. But that's not totally fair--it's also a (weird) attempt to restore the Aristocratic tradition of excellence (that I guess the minorities are also coming after?)--the idea at the bulk of this tradition is that some people are better than others at being human and having big thoughts and it's ok for the University to cater to them. Fair enough, but what does the rant have to do with that? And why does Kronman not seem to picture a minority when describing the excellent aristocrat (that's a rhetorical question, obviously). But to be really really fair, there is a nugget at the core of this book that I wholeheartedly agree with--actually I agree with most of it, but it's so littered with lazy thinking that I won't give him credit when he stumbles on obvious truths. The nugget is his analysis of Bakke--this is the supreme court case that justified affirmative action on diversity grounds. This was a terrible decision. Justice Thurgood Marshall blasted the court in a dissent (one that Kronman and I both agree was right). Affirmative ACtion was justified because of historic wrongs and the uneven playing field. The Court said it is only justified to create diversity in colleges and since then affirmative action and diversity have been a muddled mess of reasoning. Kronman would like to go back and change history--or otherwise, stop pursuing diversity because he thinks diversity takes away from excellence. I, too, believe the decision was wrong, but I think it's cynical and wrong to say that diversity is the reason for the "assault on American excellence."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Hall

    Kronman was dean of the Yale Law School for a decade beginning in 1994. Although he is a self-described progressive, this book is a vigorous assault on the supposed value of "diversity" in higher education. He would have supported uses of affirmative action by colleges and universities to remedy past societal discrimination along lines of race, unlike the majority of Supreme Court justices in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978). Nevertheless, he argues that the Supreme Court' Kronman was dean of the Yale Law School for a decade beginning in 1994. Although he is a self-described progressive, this book is a vigorous assault on the supposed value of "diversity" in higher education. He would have supported uses of affirmative action by colleges and universities to remedy past societal discrimination along lines of race, unlike the majority of Supreme Court justices in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978). Nevertheless, he argues that the Supreme Court's determination that the value of educational diversity justifies race-conscious admissions policies in higher education has had a destructive effect on the life of colleges and universities. This is so, he suggests, because the emphasis on diversity undermines the commitment he believes higher education should have to a humanistic ideal of excellence in living.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    This is a must read for people struggling to understand the controversy behind removing confederate names and statues. The drive to bury the imperfect parts of our history is dangerous. Kronman had a second row seat during the name change of Calhoun college at Yale. Kronman was the dean of the Yale Law School for a decade beginning in 1994. Kronman also goes deeper into how Universities foster excellence. The rise of student political movements are eroding excellence at higher institutions. Kron This is a must read for people struggling to understand the controversy behind removing confederate names and statues. The drive to bury the imperfect parts of our history is dangerous. Kronman had a second row seat during the name change of Calhoun college at Yale. Kronman was the dean of the Yale Law School for a decade beginning in 1994. Kronman also goes deeper into how Universities foster excellence. The rise of student political movements are eroding excellence at higher institutions. Kronman touches on many controversies and eloquently defines his own personal believes. His tone is full of hope that a humanist can still strive for excellence. more details are in the spoiler (view spoiler)[ Loyal to country and loyalty to being a humanist. This was an important distinction at the end of the book that could be an entire book ! Anthony Kronman has watched colleagues resign over emails about Halloween costumes. Kronman recognizes these on-campus clashes as a threat to our democracy. Prepare people to choose good leaders, you need to turn them into smart fighters, people who can take hits and think clearly so they’re not manipulated by demagogues. Alexis de Tocqueville and John Adams reveal examples of intellectual traditions. To graduate as good citizens, college students have to be tested in a system that isn’t wholly focused on being good to them. The Author supported uses of affirmative action by colleges and universities to remedy past societal discrimination along lines of race, unlike the majority of Supreme Court justices in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978). Over time, Kronman argues that the Supreme Court's Bakke decision has had a destructive effect on the life of colleges and universities. The emphasis on diversity undermines the commitment to excellence. (hide spoiler)]

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    I have read this book against a deadline so I might participate and now lead a discussion about it. This is a good book to spark discussion. The author write about extremes. He paints a divide between democracy that pursue equality as the fundamental goal versus humanism and aristocracy that respects and pursues excellence through ranking according to standards. What should be the purpose then of college and university? The author supports elitist aristocratic institutions that develop superior I have read this book against a deadline so I might participate and now lead a discussion about it. This is a good book to spark discussion. The author write about extremes. He paints a divide between democracy that pursue equality as the fundamental goal versus humanism and aristocracy that respects and pursues excellence through ranking according to standards. What should be the purpose then of college and university? The author supports elitist aristocratic institutions that develop superior humanists. Both sides are presented but one is the clear desired result. Can this work? That is with Socratic conversation the author desires though you may not agree with his conclusions in the end.

  6. 5 out of 5

    "Dr" Kris

    An older friend is missing following Dorian. One of the last things she did was send me, and my "sister" group, this book after we talked about Kochland. She even got a wise old teacher to agree to read it then lead an online chat/discussion about the book starting Friday. I have not slept well so have finished. This is a discussion book. It presents a view none of my friends will agree with totally but we can all argue over. It is an academic book so a challenge read. It offers both sides of an An older friend is missing following Dorian. One of the last things she did was send me, and my "sister" group, this book after we talked about Kochland. She even got a wise old teacher to agree to read it then lead an online chat/discussion about the book starting Friday. I have not slept well so have finished. This is a discussion book. It presents a view none of my friends will agree with totally but we can all argue over. It is an academic book so a challenge read. It offers both sides of an argument about college education. The author favors an aristocratic kind of orientation. If you are as dead set against the 1% rule then this will push you consider what they think as conservatives. Thanks EB! Please come back to us by Friday to join our discussion.

  7. 5 out of 5

    James

    When this book by former Yale Law School dean Anthony Kronman came out, it caused a little bit of a stir on Yale's campus where I work (albeit not in an academic capacity). It was several back-and-forth editorials in the student paper, the Yale Daily News, that of course made me want to read it even more than perhaps I would have otherwise! Though I would argue that Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff's The Coddling of the American Mind is a wider-ranging and more thorough exploration of th When this book by former Yale Law School dean Anthony Kronman came out, it caused a little bit of a stir on Yale's campus where I work (albeit not in an academic capacity). It was several back-and-forth editorials in the student paper, the Yale Daily News, that of course made me want to read it even more than perhaps I would have otherwise! Though I would argue that Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff's The Coddling of the American Mind is a wider-ranging and more thorough exploration of the contemporary issues of "excellence," "speech," "diversity," and "memory" (as Kronman categorizes them) in general in America, The Assault on American Excellence takes a fair shot at some concerning academic and cultural patterns and trends that have taken hold at American universities in recent years.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    I really appreciated the boldness of this book. I'm guessing it's hard to sympathize with professors with their tenure and mostly academically-free ways. Instead of looking for our empathy with stories of ridiculous undergraduates, this book situates its philosophy in a celebration of aristocracy. It's an idea I mostly agree with but didn't have the language for before reading this. This book gave me a lot to think about.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A provocative look at the several of the forces eroding higher education in today's America. One doesn't have to agree with everything (part of the point of the book-- academia is not the same as democracy), but this, along with The Coddling of the American Mind, is an important book for anyone who cares about learning and what's going on right now.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Kowash

    The discussion this book evokes is interesting and valuable to say the least. However, the disorganization of the entire book is frustrating. I get that the author probably wanted to slow readers down to think more, but the repititive flitting around often comes across as careless

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Appreciate his points - and agree with nearly all of them - but this book could have been shorter and more direct.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Roswell Amador

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lara Simone Bhasin

  14. 4 out of 5

    Justin

  15. 4 out of 5

    Luke Smith

  16. 4 out of 5

    Conor Sweetman

  17. 5 out of 5

    Don Winter

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ted Morgan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Joffre

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matt Holsinger

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andy Mast

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eric Pecile

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kyle C

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ares G.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Galen

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jake Sylvestre

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