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Episode 86: The Achievement Culture

Today’s conversation is one of our forays away from historical thinking, and to instead explaining and thinking about higher education. As I’ve said before, think of this as a series entitled “Higher Ed: A Guide for the Perplexed.” I’m always astonished how little very well-educated people, long out of the academy, misconceive how a college or university works. This ignorance can lead to bad choices when their kids are looking for a school. It also leads to all sorts of misconceptions evaluating the news that emanates from the campus. If people want to understand ideas, than they have to understand the place that those ideas come from, and the culture that creates those ideas.

My guest Joseph Davis has thought a lot about that culture. Our conversation is one of the most important that I think I’ve had on the podcast. It’s about how many undergraduates are obsessed with personal achievement, and where that obsession takes them. As you’ll hear, Davis believes that anxiety is the natural result of a world in which everything is possible.

Joseph E. Davis is Research Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia and moderator of the Picturing the Human colloquy at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Most recently he edited  (with Ana Marta González), most  To Fix or to Heal: Patient Care, Public Health, and the Limits of Biomedicine. Below you’ll find some of the essays around which our conversation was built. Since he’s a colleague, I can also testify that he’s a good man very worth listening to.

If you know someone with a child in college, or with a child in high school is working hard to get into college, please send them a link to this podcast.


For Further Investigation

Joseph E. Davis, “ADD for All