The result is more like a primer on the history of higher education than a manifesto.

An academic’s defense of the liberal arts, as he surveys the tensions in higher education throughout American history.

During times of increased specialization, economic downturn and staggering student loans, the argument rages once again as to whether higher education is a worthy investment or if colleges should function more like trade schools, preparing students for specific jobs that would justify the tuition costs. Wesleyan University president Roth (Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living with the Past, 2011, etc.) argues differently, countering that “the demand that we replace broad contextual education meant to lead to lifelong learning with targeted vocational undergraduate instruction is a critical mistake.” Furthermore, in “an age of seismic technological change and instantaneous information dissemination, it is more crucial than ever that we not abandon the humanistic frameworks of education in favor of narrow, technical forms of teaching intended to give quick, utilitarian results.” Such a conclusion is not surprising and not likely to convince skeptics, but what’s more illuminating is the context provided. The charge that higher education is elitist, out of touch and disconnected from the working world is one that Benjamin Franklin made centuries ago, and debates have continued ever since about what higher education is for and who should receive it. While underscoring the democratic spirit of a liberal arts education, one designed to produce “active citizens rather than passive subjects,” Roth traces how even the Founding Fathers of the republic restricted that education to patrician white males, excluding women, slaves and others—and that the question of whether farmers need to be able to read Shakespeare has long sparked debate. Between pragmatism and idealism, the author strikes a moderate, balanced approach.

The result is more like a primer on the history of higher education than a manifesto.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-300-17551-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014




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

Close Quickview