David Brooks The Atlantic Online The New York Times. The Organization Kid. Pre-reading.
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The title of this selection alludes to an influential study by William H. Whyte, called The Organization Man (1956). Whyte wanted to understand people who not only worked for “The Organization,” but also “belonged” to it. What do you anticipate might be the characteristics of an organization kid? For the adult, the organization is the place of work, the corporation: what might be the organization for a kid?
1. goal-oriented: strictly focused on achieving a certain goal, usually to exclusion of all else
2. end in itself: something that is desirable for itself rather than as a means to something else
3. meritocratic elite: a meritocracy (a word coined by Michael Young in his 1958 book The Rise of the Meritocracy) describes government by those (an elite) regarded as having merit (meaning intelligence plus effort), a quality established through such means as SATs and civil service exams
1. They are busy at all hours of the day and night, too busy to sleep.
2. Read newspapers, follow politics or good causes or establish meaningful relationships. They express regret but the writer says “nowhere did I find anybody who seriously considered living any other way” (par. 6). The writer feels something is being lost. In his day, for example, “shooting the breeze” mattered (par. 4)
2. An engaged observer is passionately concerned with what s/he’s observing. Perhaps Brooks should be described as a concerned, or curious observer? He notes that the new elite is losing something that he valued as a student, but he also notes that today’s students have significant strengths. See, for example, his summary of qualities in par. 19. Or his observation that these students are not “disputatious,” which Brooks however calls, in a phrase that is hardly flattering, a “verbal tic,” that is, the need to apologize beforehand if you’re going to disagree with someone.
3. “Part of this is just Princeton. It has always been the preppiest of the Ivy League schools” (par. 13). But: “the young elite are not entirely unlike the other young” (par. 13). Pars. 14-18 pertain to a generation, even if the Princeton undergrads are the epitome of certain generational qualities.
4. The writer understands this student generation in the context of previous generations. Insofar as today’s elite is compared to earlier ones, it seems overly-prudent and goal-oriented. But—and this requires another contrast—what seems dour is not dour to them: they are not money mad but rather ambitious.
5. In the first part he uses observation and illustration. In the second part he uses statistical studies and authorities. He does so because in the first part he can rely on his own observations and offer distinct examples; but to grasp the full import of these examples requires the context of a generation and a society as a whole, and this cannot be achieved by observation alone.