by Conor Friedersdorf
A reader writes:
I'm not going to touch books, because there are too many, but the magazine article that came to mind immediately was "The Organization Kid," from the April 2001 Atlantic.
I was assigned the article as a junior in high school, a time when my friends and I were starting to look ahead to the rat race of college admissions. Brooks' assessment of my achievement-oriented generation as successful but empty struck a deep chord in the questions I was asking myself at the time. During the class discussion, my teacher posed a thought experiment: he could teach us a rich, intellectually satisfying course on moral philosophy, or he could teach us a numbing course that would lift our SAT scores significantly. My friend replied that he would take the SAT course, and then take the intellectually-satisfying course in college -- to which the teacher replied that it doesn't work like that, because in college the choices are between LSAT (or GMAT, or MCAT...) and meaning. The cycle then continues, on and on. I vowed right then to work for things for my own reasons, because I wanted them, not because it would earn me a gold star.
The article reads as a little dated, now, 9/11 and the recession having interrupted the easy march toward success that Brooks' Princetonians were betting on. Yet having gone to college in a similar environment, I've met way too many kids who just take the deal and refuse to look critically at why they do what they do, what it means morally, and what they really want. God knows I struggle with those questions daily, but without Brooks, I'm not sure I'd be asking them.