Finally, a high-profile review of these “crisis in higher education” books that calls them for what they are: bull$hitte. (H/t to my colleague and occasional blog contributorNathan Citino for the link. He reads the New York Review of Books so I don’t have to!) Go read the whole thing by Peter Brooks–but here are some parts I thought particularly choice:
On the one hand, all the critics of the American university claim to be partisans of the liberal arts, to want students to study philosophy and literature, even the arts, and to learn “critical thinking” (the currently accepted mantra—not a bad one). On the other hand, the tests proposed always seem to have to do with job preparation—even as the critics in the same breath deplore “vocationalism” and point to the impoverished education that many majors in business or accounting receive. And one would like to know whether the level of higher education attainment measured by the OECD is in fact liberal education or simply technocratic training at a high level (a point raised by Martha Nussbaum in Not for Profit, the welcome outlier among the books under review).
[Claudia] Hacker and [Andrew] Dreifus, in their self-consciously iconoclastic (and sometimes cranky) book, identify a “Golden Dozen” colleges considered the most desirable: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Penn, Stanford, Duke, Amherst, Williams. They find it hard to obtain “solid information” to gauge the success of Golden Dozen graduates. So they turn to Who’s Who in America, to track one class (‘73) from Princeton—to find that national eminence has been achieved by a disappointing percentage of them. From this and some other equally shaky research, they conclude: “We found that most Dozen graduates do not create distinctive lives and careers—at least not to the extent one would expect from colleges that claim to find and nurture unusual talent.” The exercise is trivial—to judge the successful life requires far greater depth of knowledge—and its conclusions lightweight.
Hey, social scientists: how ’bout that methodology? I’m sure they have some super-scientific formula for determining “national eminence.” And who cares about the Class of 1973 from Princeton–did Hacker and Dreifus consider that the uni was still being churned by co-education for undergraduates, which had only begun in 1969? Princeton’s largely male class of 1973 likely still was reflective more of ancestral privilege and old-boy networks rather than a more meritocratic admissions system. Gee–no wonder so few (by their measure) are “nationally eminent!” Continue Reading »