You Are Not Special:...And Other Encouragements

You Are Not Special:...And Other Encouragements

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by Jr., David McCullough David

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A profound expansion of David McCullough, Jr.'s popular commencement speech—a call to arms against a prevailing, narrow, conception of success viewed by millions on YouTube—You Are (Not) Special is a love letter to students and parents as well as a guide to a truly fulfilling, happy life.

Children today, says David McCullough—high


A profound expansion of David McCullough, Jr.'s popular commencement speech—a call to arms against a prevailing, narrow, conception of success viewed by millions on YouTube—You Are (Not) Special is a love letter to students and parents as well as a guide to a truly fulfilling, happy life.

Children today, says David McCullough—high school English teacher, father of four, and son and namesake of the famous historian—are being encouraged to sacrifice passionate engagement with life for specious notions of success. The intense pressure to excel discourages kids from taking chances, failing, and learning empathy and self-confidence from those failures.

In You Are (Not) Special, McCullough elaborates on his now-famous speech exploring how, for what purpose, and for whose sake, we're raising our kids. With wry, affectionate humor, McCullough takes on hovering parents, ineffectual schools, professional college prep, electronic distractions, club sports, and generally the manifestations, and the applications and consequences of privilege. By acknowledging that the world is indifferent to them, McCullough takes pressure off of students to be extraordinary achievers and instead exhorts them to roll up their sleeves and do something useful with their advantages.

Editorial Reviews

Madeline Levine
“Every once in a long while, a voice seems to come out of nowhere, and you wonder how you ever managed without [it]. David McCullough, Jr. has that startling, insightful, wry, reassuring, helpful voice and You Are Not Special may be the wisest ‘parenting’ book I’ve read in decades.”
Library Journal
In his commencement speech at Wellesley High School, where he teaches English, McCullough told graduating students they weren't special: "even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you." The speech went viral. Here McCullough expands on the idea that students should rethink the standard definition of success. With a 100,000-copy first printing.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-03-12
The cult of exceptionalism, like celebrity worship, is draining us of our humanity and joy, suggests high school teacher McCullough, whose expertise comes from having nearly three decades of teaching experience and four children of his own. The author, son of the acclaimed historian, moves through the world with his eyes open, willingly empathetic to those deserving and dedicated to doing the right thing in all cases. In this book, an expansion of a 2012 commencement speech, he writes with crisp precision and light humor ("this was before Al Gore invented the Internet"). McCullough discusses the importance of authority figures' butting out, letting kids govern their engagement with life and learn through trial and error. As he notes, we all fail, but we must get up and get back into the scrum, not allowing our expectations to cripple us. "Parents, you see, are people, subject to self-doubt, who don't always have every answer, who are doing the best they can," he writes. "And we are only as happy, generally, as our least happy child, only as successful as our least successful child." McCullough ably conveys his genuine love of teaching, as well as its ups and downs, and demonstrates the significance of encouraging independence and the impulse to explore and take risks and discover those things that touch you deeply. He also digs into the perils of technology, "the breathless infatuation with hi-def, 3D, 5G, glued to the hand, glued to the ear, twenty-first-century cyber gee-whizzery." The author tackles big issues, such as gender and race, with searching sincerity, open-heartedness, and a deft, light touch. "I like to imagine," he writes, "[parents and teenagers] putting [this book] down…and reaching for another book, then maybe another, and, before long, getting up, heading out, taking great happy lungfuls of air, eager to do some good." Neither sage nor curmudgeon, McCullough is a thoughtful pre-Socratic without a schadenfreude-soaked bone in his body.

Every year, thousands of high school and college commencement speakers deliver ringing homilies about climbing the ladder of personal success. At Massachusetts's Wellesley High School, David McCullough, Jr., delivered a graduation message so different from such moral uplift that it soon became a viral sensation. This mild-mannered high school teacher made a sensation by suggesting that graduates seek involvement with life, not grasp after corporate success or stardom. For many parents and graduates, this tough love talk struck a chord of deep agreement. (P.S. McCullough is the son of famed historian David McCullough.)

The Swellesley Report
“…to open You Are Not Special…and Other Encouragements is to enter a deeply intellectual and thought-out analysis of the forces that shape modern teenage life, both at home and in the classroom. . . Even if you didn’t agree with McCullough’s speech, this is essential reading.”
Boston Globe
“…a success. May its salvos ring from Cambridge and Arlington to the hinterlands of Wellesley, Weston, and Way-wayland. You Are Not Special is also big-hearted - and clearly forged in a hearth of caring, doubt, and fear. Aphorisms could be lifted from every page and blossom into memes.”
Chicago Tribune
“Drawing on his teaching and parenting experience, You Are Not Special calls on teenagers to use their privilege and considerable talents to solve the increasingly complex and dire problems plaguing our world... It’s a lovely notion… and the book is fantastic.”
“Despite the somewhat disparaging tone of the title, McCullough’s graduation book is anything but a downer. The high school English teacher ...expands on his viral commencement address with words of encouragement: Do what you love, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and remember-we’re all in the same boat.”
Clayton Christensen
“A clear-eyed but affectionate polemic urging kids to stop trying to be perfect and to take chances, even at the risk of failing. A profound celebration of the life well lived.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

David McCullough, Jr. taught for sixteen years at Punahou School in Honolulu and has been teaching at Wellesley High School near Boston since 2002. He lives with his wife and four children in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

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You Are Not Special:...And Other Encouragements 5 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 1 reviews.
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