My review of Professor X’s In the Basement of the Ivory Tower appears in the 1 May 2011 issue of the New York Times Book Review.
Posted by Caleb Crain on 29 April 2011 in academia, items new in print
Thanks for this review, Caleb. I just recently read Professor X’s original article, sent me by a colleague. I remember wondering why Professor X hadn’t called himself Professor F. And last week’s N+1 article, “Bad Education,” didn’t help me feel much better. There’s a question of access, and who’s to say who should or should not have access to continuing education? Louis Menand has written on the virtues of egalitarian education and the challenges it brings to the value of meritocracy. But full access is necessary for many things we value: democracy, for example, and literacy, not to mention literature. There’s also the question of whether or not the skills Professor X values are the same skills required for success in business. Yet many of the corporations Professor X would like to see eliminate degree requirements are still willing to make continuing education costs an employee benefit. I remember wondering about X’s response to the woman who didn’t understand Word or who was apparently computer illiterate – she was at a computer in the library staring stupefied at a screen. So what? Non-literacy is not a failure of intelligence. As for the “profits,” they are at least now doing what the community colleges should have done long ago – making access flexible and building a new structure and strategy to address changed needs. Cost is a problem, and we’re already living in a bubble bath environment. In “Deschooling Society,” Ivan Illich argued that we had then already confused degrees with education (not to mention medicine for health care), and that formal education was already over-valued and unnecessarily expensive: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html . Maybe not much has changed. I had thought that Professor X might have been confusing grading with teaching, yet I was encouraged to read your analysis that the F is some sort of cover for a subtext of shame. Not sure how to conclude here – who is? I’m thinking of a variation on Pirandello: “X number of students in search of a teacher.”
Wow. As a shame-prone contingent faculty person, I thank you for this article.