Although stronger on diagnosis than cure, this is an impassioned call for a corrupt system to heal itself.

Has the democratic ideal of a classical education, open to rich and poor alike, become a thing of the past?

That’s the scenario proposed by esteemed literary scholar Delbanco (Humanities and American Studies/Columbia Univ.; Melville: His World and Work, 2005, etc.) in this engaging assessment of how American higher education has lost its way. He starts with the American ideal, dating back to the Puritans, of college as a place that trained the whole person, taught students “how to think and how to choose” and how to question received wisdom. The examined life, in essence; a process of  “growing out of an embattled sense of self into a more generous view of life as continuous self-reflection in light of new experience, including the witnessed experience of others.” In modern America, that focus has shifted: Now it’s less about the eternal verities than chasing after dollars, more about filling seats than heads and more about science than the humanities. The research university is now regarded as “the most evolved species in the institutional chain of being.” The greater purpose founders, while “literature, history, philosophy, and the arts are becoming the stepchildren of our colleges.” Given his pedigree, Delbanco may sound like he’s protecting his own turf, but he makes a strong case that the purely materialist approach to education assures that the disparity between rich and poor students only widens, with “merit-based” financial aid and scholarships all going disproportionately to students from families with money. Scholarship reform, a classical curriculum, more real teaching (and less lecturing to crowded halls) are all in order.

Although stronger on diagnosis than cure, this is an impassioned call for a corrupt system to heal itself.

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-691-13073-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012




American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992



The sub-title of this book is "Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools." But one finds in it little about education, and less about the teaching of English. Nor is this volume a defense of the Christian faith similar to other books from the pen of C. S. Lewis. The three lectures comprising the book are rather rambling talks about life and literature and philosophy. Those who have come to expect from Lewis penetrating satire and a subtle sense of humor, used to buttress a real Christian faith, will be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 8, 1947

ISBN: 1609421477

Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1947