Cottom does a good job of making the name “Lower Ed” stick, and she makes a solid case for reviewing the entire system of...

LOWER ED

THE TROUBLING RISE OF FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES IN THE NEW ECONOMY

An informal sociological study of diploma mills and their often ripped-off discontents.

Before becoming a sociology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, sometime Slate columnist Cottom worked at a for-profit college whose machinations she came, once understanding them, to despise. In this slender book, she lays out a case against a system that engenders predation and that profits, in the end, from social and economic injustice. The unknown number of for-profit students—variously said to be between 1.2 million and about twice that many enrollees—pays about 20 percent more than at a “flagship public university” for an undergraduate degree but about four times more than an associate’s degree at a community college. What drives this preyed-upon class, whose members, the author rightly adds, are not necessarily academically inferior? In part, perhaps, the promise of a degree more easily attained than at a regular academic institution. However, writes Cottom, another factor is that most of these students, ill-educated to begin with, simply have no preparation in navigating bureaucracies and no way of gauging the difference between one school and the next, down to knowing what the cost might be. “Traditional colleges,” she writes, “benefit from a deeply entrenched cultural faith in the value of college, particularly among higher-status groups.” For the lower-status and the aspirational, college is a way of getting one’s ticket punched, to get a credential that might lead somewhere better. In the end, Cottom suggests, by their very existence, with reassuringly august names like the University of Phoenix and ITT Technical Institute (and, perhaps most notoriously, Trump University), these schools, which are often publicly subsidized to some extent, are “an indicator of social and economic inequalities and, at the same time, are perpetuators of those inequalities.”

Cottom does a good job of making the name “Lower Ed” stick, and she makes a solid case for reviewing the entire system of higher education for openness of opportunity.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62097-060-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION

THE DECLINE, THE DECEPTION, THE DOGMAS

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

COLUMBINE

Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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