In the recent book by Clay Christensen and Henry Eyring, The Innovative University, the authors contend that many colleges and universities will be left in the dust unless they figure out how to adapt, much as companies have crumbled when innovative technologies hit their markets and they couldn't rapidly adjust to it.
John Moore, who served as president of Grove City College, discusses the recent book by Professor Robert Martin, The College Cost Disease. He thinks that Martin’s analysis is mostly correct, but argues that it is possible for colleges to overcome the disease or never contract it in the first place. Smaller institutions with a clear educational mission and careful oversight from trustees can maintain high academic standards while keeping costs down.
Academic Questions author David French and his wife Nancy were interviewed on the 700 Club last month (8-minute video), discussing their new book, Here and Away, about their experiences during his tour in Iraq. Human Events also ran a review of the book here. David French's article, "American Legal Education and Professional Despair," appeared in the recent issue of Academic Questions on law schools (Summer 2011).
New York University economics professor Edward N. Wolff is another liberal who doesn’t agree that the nation will benefit, either in rising productivity or greater equality (and inequality bothers him a lot) by pushing more students into college in hopes of increasing our level of “educational attainment.”
As the Borders stores close their doors and Kindles are creeping ‘cross our beaches, books are on our minds. So for a short summer series at NAS.org, we asked some of our friends to tell us their favorite books – top ten fiction and top ten non-fiction. We asked them for the titles of books they most enjoy, not necessarily books that are, as one friend put it, "good for you." Check them out this week and next week. What are your favorite books?
For Father’s Day, my daughter Kate sent me a t-shirt featuring David Pelham’s dust jacket of Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange (Penguin, 1962). Director Stanley Kubrick turned Burgess’s cautionary tale into a surreal film masterpiece (Warner Bros., 1971) with graphic scenes of violence, sex, gangs, rape, and aversive conditioning, choreographed and set to thundering, Moog-synthesized Beethoven (and "Singin’ In the Rain"). The film, now reissued on Blu-Ray for its 40th anniversary, has a turbulent history. Originally rated X, Kubrick had to re-cut it for an R but also withdrew the film from distribution in the UK where it was re-released only in 2000, after his death. The American edition of the book which inspired Kubrick had itself been bowdlerized by the publisher (Norton) who amputated the final chapter creating a dark, ambiguous conclusion where Burgess’s 21st chapter offered a consoling one. Once, Kubrick’s opus was required viewing in my class about what a human being is and isn’t. When Burgess/Kubrick’s sociopathic narrator, Alex, is arrested, he is subjected to aversive conditioning and becomes incapable of violent action (the conditioning also destroys his ability to enjoy “Ludwig Van”). He is now “a clockwork orange,” what you get when you treat something organic as if it were a programmable machine; Alex’s prison chaplain protests that "When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man." Voila, Kubrick’s film was perfect for the class, but, like Kubrick, I too withdrew it after one student became hysterical during the viewing, curling into a fetal position and shaking for an hour after class. Apparently, Alex’s “ultra-violent” acts but ingenuous “of-course-you-understand” intimacy remain disturbing, even dangerous, enhanced by the timeless music, John Alcott’s cinematography, and Kubrick’s notoriously clinical eye. The opening 90-second dolly back shot still chills the blood. Yet, cold as Kubrick’s films feel, he was an eminently sane man presenting a perennial dilemma--freedom vs. order. In an interview with film historian Michel Ciment, he said
I think that when Rousseau transferred the concept of original sin from man to society, he was responsible for a lot of misguided social thinking which followed. I don't think that man is what he is because of an imperfectly structured society, but rather that society is imperfectly structured because of the nature of man. No philosophy based on an incorrect view of the nature of man is likely to produce social good.”
Indeed . . . . If only the outcomes-and-assessment-addled mandarins who run our “imperfectly structured” education system would take Kubrick’s words to heart, the job of rebuilding the humane studies might finally begin.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about the new book In the Basement of the Ivory Tower by "Professor X." He's an adjunct who teaches English at two lower-tier schools and the book is highly revealing. Many of his students are barely literate and can't write coherently, but there they are in English 101, having gotten through the remedial filters. They have little interest in learning and are in college just for the credential. If we try to expand higher education the way President Obama and many in the higher education establishment want, the increase in student numbers will come almost entirely from students like these -- and even weaker ones. The author sees the parallel to the housing bubble. We already have lots of "students" who are very dubious candidates for mortgages; next we'll have to go to the college equivalent of "liar loans." College education still has a mystique for many people. Supposedly it does much to impart needed knowledge and skills. It's said to be our "best investment." Read this book and you'll find out it ain't necessarily so.
My former student Joshua, now ambivalently quartered at UC Santa Cruz (home of the fightin’ Banana Slugs and currently under Federal investigation for systemic anti-Semitism), has an article in Literary Matters about cheating. Not students cheating; students who feel cheated. He's found a couple of excellent literature classes (Cervantes) but most just use books as a vector for stone-cold political ideology. When he was at Monterey Peninsula College, Josh was the midwife who helped deliver a great books program to a college that had been out to axe all its literature courses. In my Intro. to Lit., class he heard me refer to Robert Hutchins’s metaphor for Western literature as a “Great Conversation,” and in Literary Matters he writes
“Within weeks other members of the class and I were meeting on our own time to discuss the Great Books. We read Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. We read Sappho. We felt and spoke as if we had rediscovered some long-forgotten treasure abandoned by the generation before [my emphasis].”
Josh devoured a copy of Hutchins’s The Great Conversation that he found (where else?) in the college library discard pile. He says, ". . . the students I came into contact with seemed to react as I had. We felt we’d missed out on something essential by not being exposed to these works earlier.” An Iraq War veteran, Josh notes that he was
inspired by The Iliad. I read the Robert Fagles translation and understood, finally, that this poem was not only about the Trojan War, but also about humanity and warfare. It might have been any war. It might be every war.”
In a similar vein, my current student Lisa says that "Before last semester I had never even read a book entirely. I realized how much I really enjoy it. Reading has opened up a whole new world for me. I am glad I finally got introduced into this world . . . .” That they both say “finally” speaks volumes about K-16 education today. Thankfully, The Great Conversation lives on, and it's encouraging that more and more students, such as Josh and Lisa, are growing tired of being excluded from the dialogue.
The New York Times recently ran an article by Edward Rothstein ("To Each His Own Museum, as Identity Goes on Display") about museum exhibitions that seek to vindicate certain groups' historical roles but end up distorting history through an overemphasis on group identity. In it Rothstein cites The Rise of Early Modern Science, a book by 2009 Academic Questions author Toby Huff:
You may have read about the latest attempt to make a classic work acceptable to contemporary PC sensibilities, in this case a new edition of Huckleberry Finn from which racial epithets - certainly authentic to the novel's social and historical setting - have been removed. It doesn't stop there, either.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center has listed NAS President Peter Wood's book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept in its inventory of "150+ Books You Should Be Reading In Class, But Probably Aren't." Diversity is featured this week as part of the Center's "Adopt a Dissenting Book" campaign. Thanks to the Freedom Center for the plug, and we certainly encourage student to take its advice and learn the truth about the roots of the campus "diversity" movement. It's not something colleges and universities are transparent about, and it will help you distinguish diversity as an ideology from diversity as physical and cultural variation. In The New Criterion, John Derbyshire called Diversity "a fine book, full of cogent arguments, curious facts, and nasty slimy things that burrowed away unnoticed under the foundations of our culture till Professor Wood turned them up with his trowel." We don't want today's students to miss those arguments, facts, and slimy things.
I'd like to share with you my post at American Culture on Christopher Hill's novel. I'm sorry to say I didn't know about this novel until I visited the Alexander Hamilton Institute last summer. Fortunately, I was driving, so I could load up my trunk with books from the bookstore. Hill's novel was one of the gems.
NAS published articles on both sides of the debate over the future of reading. One held up the merits of traditional books and asserted that we have much to lose as human beings if we abandon the printed word, and the other defended the Kindle as a helpful option for the modern reader. "Inflammatory Books on Kindle? Reigniting the Written Word,” by David Clemens, argues that, "When the book becomes disembodied, so does the reader." Jason Fertig counters in "A Kindled Spirit" that "there is no need to fear the Kindle and its electronic cousins, for they are on our side [the side in favor of reading books]." We hope to have more pro/con pairs like this in the future.
To make it easier for our readers to find our work on college common reading, we created a new article series on the NAS website, www.nas.org. You can find these articles by going to the green "Article Series" button on the left sidebar of the homepage, and clicking "Common Reading Project" on the flyout menu. We'll soon add a button on the homepage for our "Better Books" for common reading programs. Our study on common reading is a platform we aim to build on in future undertakings, so stay tuned for further developments, and let us know your suggestions for additional related projects.
In today's Pope Center article, Jenna Robinson delves into the sad history of freshman summer reading programs. Unfortunately, the books that schools usually choose are either feel-good fluff or politically tendentious tracts. Her conclusion: "Universities have one chance to make a first impression on students; they should use that opportunity to choose books that are rigorous, that challenge students to think critically about new ideas, and that genuinely introduce them to university work and intellectual life." For the most part, universities blow that chance.
We are proud to announce the arrival of a new book, The Politically Correct University, published by the American Enterprise Institute, which features chapters by NAS's president Peter Wood and chairman Steve Balch. Dr. Wood’s chapter, “College Conformity 101: Where the Diversity of Ideas Meets the Idea of Diversity,” teases out the two contrasting meanings of the mysterious word “diversity,” and Dr. Balch's chapter, “The Route to Academic Pluralism,” sets out some practical tactics for reforming higher education. Other authors in The Politically Correct University are friends and partners of NAS, such as Victor Davis Hanson, Anne Neal, and Stanley Rothman. The Politically Correct University is available for purchase here.
The results so far and a SURVEY you can take to help us narrow them down and straighten them out.