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.