I Went to David Brooks’ Class So You Don’t Have To

When it was first announced that NYT columnist David Brooks would be teaching a class at Yale on humility, a lot of people were quick to point out how ironic it was. When the syllabus was first posted this week, Twitter just about exploded as people pulled quotes like “We will pay special attention to those who attended elite prep schools and universities” from the syllabus (keep in mind, it’s a course on humility, at Yale, taught by David Brooks). The syllabus includes readings by or about famous-but-humble minds like Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Moses, Augustine, and none other than David Brooks.

So I decided to go to the first class yesterday with no intention of actually staying. While it wasn’t that excitingly terrible or good, I did end up making a few observations, and of course there were a few points of “you can’t make this stuff up.” Like when we were trying to cram into the room and he needed to get past dozens of students to get to his seat, and he raised his hands and (I kid you not) said “I feel like Bono!” Or when he was explaining office hours (which are Monday nights at either a cafe or a bar) and said that meeting with students individually was exciting “certainly for them but also for me.” I storified some other observations which I’m restating here:

  • Brooks acknowledged that parts of the syllabus smack of rich or powerful white men, but the first day still begins with Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall.
  • Of the ~55 students that attended the first day, I counted 8 women and about 10 non-white males. Only 20 will be admitted, so it will be interesting to see how that turns out.
  • After reading 10 definitions of humility, Brooks literally said “God had Ten Commandments, so I figured I’d stop there.”
  • I learned that Brooks has met Obama, Bush, Clinton, Biden, and McCain. On day one of a class on humility.
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22 responses to “I Went to David Brooks’ Class So You Don’t Have To

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  2. I should have this post framed.

  3. I do hope you will continue to attend so that we can all learn from the humility of Brooks. When in a difficult situation, I often find myself thinking, “What would David Brooks do?” I am forever sinking in water. All my fish and bread needs must be met at the grocery store. But I can’t say that for him. See what spontaneously appears with the wine during “office hours.”

    • Yes, please keep attending. I’m dying to hear David Brooks discuss with Yale students how humble they all are for choosing not to put a Yale window sticker on the back of their cars.

  4. Alternative titles “Bobo compares self to Bono” and “Bobos in paradox”

  5. Reblogged this on Robertwaldmann’s Weblog.

  6. I think you’re being very unfair to Brooks here. You refer to it repeatedly as “a course on humility” or “a class on humility”.

    I think you will find that Brooks’ official title is The Humility Course.

  7. How much does Brooks get paid compared to a lowly English/Humanities lecturer?
    (He probably should do it for free, as it improves his brand.)
    Next year, will Yale hire Jamie Dimon (or other banksters) for a course in Equitable Compensation? They already have John Negroponte on staff to teach Human Rights in Honduras, and Stanley McChrystal for the class on Military-civilian Relations.

    • I don’t know how the pay goes, but the Jackson Institute (where Brooks, Negroponte, McChrystal, etc. all work) is one of the more dubious programs at Yale in terms of quality higher education.

  8. I make a distinction between modesty and humility (Modest bad; Humble good) but Brooks seems to have failed to be either.

  9. Pingback: David Brooks on Humility « BLT

  10. This seems unfair to the point of stupidity. Obviously the knee-slappers concerning Bono and office hours were ment to be ironic. Brooks can actually be a pretty funny guy who really does think a lot about humility. You should read his parody on Buckley at Yale that started his career. Brooks is also the only one (besides me) who likes to harp on this series of surveys that show Americans went from humble salt of the earth types to self important idiots in a matter of a few decades. Personally I’d love to attend. The author needs to have a smack upside his self important head.

    • “Personally I’d love to attend.”

      Nothing’s stopping you except being too dumb to get into Yale.

    • Yes, the Bono bit was clearly a joke (the office hours bit really seemed sincere, to be honest, but that’s not really important), and I’m sure he can be a pretty funny guy. But cracking jokes about how famous you are when you’re actually quite well-known is kind of bizarre. In this post, I was just taking jabs at the notion of teaching a course on a character trait, and even more so at the class being taught by a famous person to predominantly elite youths at an Ivy League school. Yes, it’s a bit unfair of me, but I wasn’t trying to make some sort of in-depth argument about how to teach humility, I was just listing observations from a unique perspective – a lot of people talked about the course but only a few ended up making it into that room, so I dragged a few moments of irony/hilarity out of it.

      • You have a point that there is some potential for parody there, but I don’t think you found it. Here is a bit of a masterpiece done by Brooks, recounted at the time of Buckey’s death:

        ====================================================================
        When I was in college, William F. Buckley Jr. wrote a book called “Overdrive” in which he described his glamorous lifestyle. Since I was young and a smart-aleck, I wrote a parody of it for the school paper.

        “Buckley spent most of his infancy working on his memoirs,” I wrote in my faux-biography. “By the time he had learned to talk, he had finished three volumes: ‘The World Before Buckley,’ which traced the history of the world prior to his conception; ‘The Seeds of Utopia,’ which outlined his effect on world events during the nine months of his gestation; and ‘The Glorious Dawn,’ which described the profound ramifications of his birth on the social order.”

        The piece went on in this way. I noted that his ability to turn water into wine added to his popularity at prep school. I described his college memoirs: “God and Me at Yale,” “God and Me at Home” and “God and Me at the Movies.” I recounted that after college he had founded two magazines, one called The National Buckley and the other called The Buckley Review, which merged to form The Buckley Buckley.

        I wrote that his hobbies included extended bouts of name-dropping and going into rooms to make everyone else feel inferior.

        Buckley came to the University of Chicago, delivered a lecture and said: “David Brooks, if you’re in the audience, I’d like to offer you a job.”

        ====================================================================
        One could say there is a bit of “aren’t I precious” about this and parts of his lecture. Fine, go after that, but pretending somebody’s jokes were ment to be taken seriously is just a low blow. “…cracking jokes about how famous you are when you’re actually quite well-known is kind of bizarre.” No it’s not, it is called self parody, and I thought it pretty hillarious, particularly in a class on humility. It sounds like you have lots of opionions on Brooks without really much thought or observation on his character or sense of humor. How exactly does a famous person express humility without self parody and not sound like a jackass anyway?

        As for humility at Yale, well, yeah, but couldn’t a place like Yale really use some meditation on humility? Brooks, I think, regards the colapse of American humility something to be concerned about, and so his entry into the belly of the beast.

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  12. ” he needed to get passed dozens” that would be P A S T- seriously doubt you are a student at Yale.

  13. Love it! It reminds me of a program in a private school in Dublin designed to show the kids how “the other half” lived. I think they called it “the inner city dive”. The kids went to live with a poor family (I kid you not! To this day I don’t know how or why those families agreed to take part) for a few days and then a kid from that family stayed with the rich kid for a few days. It’s become part of popular culture now as a repeating storyline in the brilliant Ross O’Carroll Kelly books.

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