Education

College by the numbers

October 18, 2010
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College by the numbers

Earlier this month the State University of New York at Albany announced “that the university was ending all admissions to programs in French, Italian, Russian, and classics, leaving only Spanish left in the language department once current students graduate. The theater department is also being eliminated.” Over the weekend the New York Times asked a panel of scholars to respond to this news, wondering how necessary the study of French really is. Among their respondents was Gaye Tuchman, author of Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University, who argues that “ending programs in the arts and humanities because they are not making money transforms universities into trade schools. This corporatization of colleges and universities has already squelched the notion that higher education is a public good.” The process of corporatization is one Tuchman has studied extensively, as seen in Wannabe U, which tracks the dispiriting consequences of trading in traditional educational values for loyalty to the market. In a recent essay for the Chronicle Review, Tuchman examined the effects of one particular trend that universities have borrowed from corporations: an obsession with measuring success numerically. After detailing the various ways faculty and administrators have collaborated in developing an “audit culture,” Tuchman . . .

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“All that great writing, trapped in mediocre books!”

September 22, 2010
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“All that great writing, trapped in mediocre books!”

The September 14th issue of the London Review of Books features an extended, combative review by Elif Batuman of a recent book from Harvard University Press, Mark McGurl’s The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. Though Batuman takes issue with many of McGurl’s points, her essay is the sort of review any author ought to be happy to get, one that takes the book seriously enough to engage deeply with its ideas. Ultimately, however, Batuman is simply much more critical of university writing programs and the fiction they’ve spawned than McGurl is, arguing, among other things, that their ahistorical approach to fiction is a short-sighted, narcissistic mistake. “Literary scholarship,” writes Batuman, “may not be an undiluted joy to its readers, but at least it’s usually founded on an ideal of the collaborative accretion of human knowledge.” Batuman’s essay brought to mind one of our books, D. G. Myers’s The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing since 1880, which takes a longer view than McGurl’s book, surveying and analyzing more than a century of debate over how—and even whether&#8212creative writing should be taught. Myers draws on a wide range of writers—including Longfellow, Emerson, Frost, John Berryman, John Dewey, Lionel . . .

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The United States’s changing role in the “higher education ecosystem”

August 31, 2010
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The United States’s changing role in the “higher education ecosystem”

For much of the last century American universities have held their place as global leaders in higher education, but recently, with the United State’s economic dominance increasingly jeopardized by rising world powers such as China, and to a lesser extent India, there have been some quiet grumblings about a possible “reverse brain drain.” Numbers of US born grad students in the sciences have, of late, been on the decline, while many foreign-born students—who make up a significant portion of the domestic scientific community, and who continue arrive in droves to attend the nation’s elite research institutions—are increasingly able to find high quality employment in their home countries. And while other factors may come into play—post 9/11 restrictions on employment visas, political decisions that redirect funding for scientific research— a new book from the National Bureau of Economic Research, American Universities in a Global Market edited by Charles T. Clotfelter, offers some fascinating insights into this phenomenon, viewing the issue in terms of economics, and drawing on the knowledge of some of the world’s leading economists to help analyze it. From a recent interview with Clotfelter for Inside Higher Ed: Q. There’ve been lots of recent analyses of American higher education’s . . .

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Press Release: Paley, The Boy on the Beach

April 15, 2010
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Press Release: Paley, The Boy on the Beach

Study after study has tackled the question of how young children learn—and for decades Vivian Gussin Paley has argued that if we want the best answers to that question, we simply need to listen to children. In her nearly fifty years as a teacher and writer, Paley has done just that, listening closely as kids, at play and at school, tell stories, invent characters, and imagine situations to help them understand the complicated and surprising world around them. With The Boy on the Beach, Paley continues her listening, using the stories of young children—recounted in their own words—to help understand how they use play and stories to build community in the classroom, on the playground, and at home. She then follows a kindergarten class through one school year, letting us watch as the children get to know one another and their teacher, and incisively analyzing the role their increasingly shared imaginative lives play in their education and development. Never less than charming, yet rich with ideas and insight, The Boy on the Beach is vintage Vivian Paley, sure to be embraced by teachers and parents alike. Read the press release. Also read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Key ingredients for “baking up a good school”

February 25, 2010
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Key ingredients for “baking up a good school”

In an article that appeared in yesterday’s Chicago Journal, reporter Megan Cottrell offers a nice summary of the results of a study conducted by researchers from the Consortium on Chicago School Research and recently published in Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. The study, conducted over a seven-year period, aimed to track the effects of the 1988 decentralization of the Chicago Public School system—a move that granted parents and communities significant resources and authority to reform schools. But, as Cottrell notes, the researchers found that the results of these reforms varied greatly from school to school, some dramatically improving the academic performance of their students, while others floundered. In their book, Anthony S. Bryk, Penny Bender Sebring, Elaine Allensworth, Stuart Luppescu, and John Q. Easton have sifted through mountains of data to identify the key ingredients required to, as Cottrell’s article puts it, ‘bake up a good school.” Cotrell writes: A good school, it turns out, is a lot like a cake. Put in sugar, eggs and oil, but forget the flour, and all you end up with is a sweet, sloppy mess. Without all the right ingredients, success will continually evade you. It all starts with the chef. . . .

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Still provocative after all these years

February 5, 2010
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Still provocative after all these years

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published a profile of one of the most consistently interesting academics today, Mark C. Taylor, chair of the religion department at Columbia University and a prolific author, having published tens of books and innumerable articles on topics from poststructuralism to the visual arts. Recently however Taylor’s copious oeuvre has been slightly overshadowed by his controversial critique of tenure and the structure of the academy, originally published in the New York Times, and the basis of his forthcoming book from Knopf, Crisis on Campus. In the Chronicle article, “The Provocations of Mark Taylor”, Eric Banks revisits the furor created by the article’s radical recommendations for interdisciplinarity and the abolishing of “traditional disciplinary structures” but connects Taylor’s critique to his other work, including his recent book from Columbia University Press, Field Notes From Elsewhere, his 2004 Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World Without Redemption, and his 2007 treatise on religion in contemporary culture After God. Noting his concurrent efforts at reform in the religion department at Columbia, Banks article concludes: “Whether his administration at Columbia, or for that matter his forthcoming Knopf title, will light a fire of reform, the experience is worth trying . . .

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What can we learn from the Chicago public schools?

January 22, 2010
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What can we learn from the Chicago public schools?

Elaine Allensworth, co-author of a new study recently released by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, was invited on Chicago Public Radio’s Eight Forty-Eight yesterday to discuss the book’s findings. The book tracks the effects over a twenty year period of the radical program of reform put in place by the Illinois General Assembly in 1988—a program which has utilized some controversial tactics to accomplish its goals from the consolidation of students, to staff replacements, to wholesale school closures. Listen in as Allensworth and others deliver an insightful analysis of the project to reform Chicago’s public school system on the Chicago Public Radio website, then read an excerpt from Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. . . .

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A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities

January 6, 2010
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A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities

As Patricia Cohen recently wrote in the New York Times reviewing two new books on higher education, “champions of the market can turn up in the oddest places. At the same time that bankers and businessmen are acknowledging the downsides of unregulated capitalism, college and university reformers are urging the academy to more closely embrace the marketplace.” And one of the reformers Cohen reviews is our author. In Saving Alma Mater: A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities James C. Garland draws on more than thirty years of experience as a professor, administrator, and university president to argue that a new compact between state government and public universities is needed to make these schools more affordable and financially secure. As Cohen writes: Mr. Garland is concerned with putting public university systems on a solid financial footing. Although they educate 80 percent of the nation’s college students, public institutions have seen their quality sapped by shrinking government aid, changing demographics and growing income inequality. In Saving Alma Mater, Mr. Garland argues that government should end subsidies altogether and allow supply and demand to rule. Let public universities compete for students and set their own tuitions. To ensure that poor students can . . .

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The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion on WGN’s Extension 720

November 30, 2009
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The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion on WGN’s Extension 720

WGN’s Milton J. Rosenberg recently invited several guests on his radio talk show Extension 720 to discuss the press’s recent publication of The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion—the definitive reference book for parents, social workers, researchers, educators, and others who work with children. Listen in as editor-in-chief Richard A. Shweder, contributor Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon, and house editor Mary Laur, talk about their new book and field questions from callers on the WGN Extension 720 website. Bringing together contemporary research on children and childhood from pediatrics, child psychology, childhood studies, education, sociology, history, law, anthropology, and other related areas, The Child contains more than 500 articles—all written by experts in their fields and overseen by a panel of distinguished editors led by anthropologist Richard A. Shweder—each providing a concise and accessible synopsis of the topic at hand. In addition to these topical essays, The Child also contains more than forty “Imagining Each Other” essays, which focus on the particular experiences of children in different cultures. Compiled by some of the most distinguished child development researchers in the world, The Child is an essential addition to the current knowledge on children and childhood. To find out more navigate to this special website for the . . .

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Lose your academic innocence early

November 17, 2009
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Lose your academic innocence early

Like other recent analyses of academic careers, Joseph Hermanowicz’s Lives in Science: How Institutions Affect Academic Careers delivers some rather brutal news for all those wanna-be tenure track professors out there hoping to leave their mark on their discipline—it probably ain’t gonna happen. As Beryl Lieff Benderly writes in a recent review of Hermanowicz’s book for Science Career Magazine: Many aspirants to research careers lack an accurate idea of where they’re headed. In fact, Hermanowicz writes, accepting an unrealistically rosy image of one’s future is a basic step on the road to becoming an academic scientist. That image traditionally includes a pantheon of the greats of one’s discipline, faith in the high intrinsic value of research, and belief that recognition by the scientific community is a valid measure of worth. This image also implies that, with talent and dedication, any young scientist has a chance of making a distinguished contribution.… as the great majority of faculty members learn … the opportunity to do important science and gain major recognition only ever exists for a relative few—overwhelmingly those educated and employed at the most prestigious universities. Yet, as Benderly points out, this certainly isn’t the most surprising revelation Hermanowicz has . . .

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