In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic

Overview


A caustic expose of the deeply state of our colleges-America's most expensive Ponzi scheme.

What drives a former English major with a creative writing degree, several unpublished novels, three kids, and a straining marriage to take a job as a night teacher at a second-rate college? An unaffordable mortgage.

As his house starts falling apart in every imaginable way, Professor X grabs first one, then two jobs teaching English 101 and ...

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Overview


A caustic expose of the deeply state of our colleges-America's most expensive Ponzi scheme.

What drives a former English major with a creative writing degree, several unpublished novels, three kids, and a straining marriage to take a job as a night teacher at a second-rate college? An unaffordable mortgage.

As his house starts falling apart in every imaginable way, Professor X grabs first one, then two jobs teaching English 101 and 102-composition and literature-at a small private college and a local community college. He finds himself on the front lines of America's academic crisis. It's quite an education.

This is the story of what he learns about his struggling pupils, about the college system-a business more bent on its own financial targets than the wellbeing of its students-about the classics he rediscovers, and about himself. Funny, wry, self-deprecating, and a provocative indictment of our failing schools, In the Basement of the Ivory Tower is both a brilliant academic satire and a poignant account of one teacher's seismic frustration-and unlikely salvation-as his real estate woes catapult him into a subprime crisis of an altogether more human nature.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Professor X, who embarks on teaching literature and composition evening classes at two colleges (one private, one community) as a supplement to his full-time job to avoid foreclosure, describes his time in academia in a slow-going memoir. Taking the reader through the minutiae of teaching—how he found his job, what he said to his first class, his grading principles, how he meets plagiarism—along the way, he tosses in how his marriage is going and what he thinks of the mortgage crisis. He sprinkles his account with vignettes of literary analysis and reports from professional and media education specialists. The subjects Professor X approaches are the critical ones facing the growth, spread, and direction of American higher education, but his treatment of them is sadly shallow and self-absorbed. A book-length version of a June 2008 Atlantic Monthly article that was much discussed (which he comments on) becomes essentially an extended grouse about the inadequacies of the students and the institutions they attend. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In his author's note, Professor X, who teaches English composition and literature at two small colleges, describes this book as a "quest narrative." Seeking to expound the controversial essay of the same name that he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly, he guides readers toward the view of higher education as a business more focused on making profit than producing graduates. Humorous, critical, and self-deprecating, his meandering story reads like a journal. Professor X exposes the failures of colleges and indirectly raises questions about the preparation of students during the early years of schooling. VERDICT Critics of the current state of higher education will find plenty in Professor X's book to bolster their arguments against the corporate nature of education; however, readers undecided on the issue and seeking insight are likely to be distracted by his multiple references to literature. Whether readers agree or disagree with the professor's summation of American colleges and, by extension, the K-12 education system, the recent crackdown on for-profit colleges and universities makes this book of interest.—Tamela Chambers, Chicago Public Schs.
Kirkus Reviews

Expanding on his controversialAtlantic Monthlyessay, "Professor X" assails the ill-considered optimism that encourages unprepared students to assume crippling debt to get college degrees they don't really need.

The author is an adjunct English instructor—tenure, no insurance, no benefits and no status—who teaches basic college courses on a part-time basis. This is in addition to his regular civil-service job, which no longer covered his expenses once he and his wife "marked the turn of the millennium by buying a home that we really couldn't afford." Indeed, perhaps the most unsettling thing about this disturbing screed is the parallel that Professor X draws between the housing boom that provoked the 2008 financial crisis and the recent boom in college enrollment, which promises people who barely made it through high school that a college degree will improve their employment prospects. "There are no guarantees," he writes. "Markets tumble, houses enter foreclosure, students fail." The author makes it painfully clear that many of his students deserve to fail. They cannot construct a basic sentence, let alone an essay; they have never read a book for pleasure in their lives. Yet they are expected to savor the glories of poetry and to produce coherent, properly organized and cogently argued essays. Contrary to what many of the angry responses to the originalAtlanticarticle suggested, Professor X does not look down on his students or think they're stupid, but he cannot pretend that they have the background and skills required for the classes he is allegedly teaching. (In fact, he's doing remedial work.) He questions the necessity of higher education for people who want to be corrections officers or nurses, reserving some of his most scathing words for the "credential inflation" that keeps upping the amount of education demanded of applicants for blue-collar and technical jobs. The author offers no solutions, but makes the profoundly un-American suggestion that not everyone is college material.

Intelligent, convincing and depressing, despite the author's evident zest for teaching.

Dwight Garner
…a clear-eyed report from what the author calls "the college of last resort." It's the work of a compassionate man who longs for academia to be crueler to be kinder.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670022564
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/31/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 8.24 (w) x 5.84 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Professor X has been teaching English composition and literature for a decade at two small colleges somewhere in America. His essay in The Atlantic, chosen by David Brooks for a Sidney Award and much trafficked and debated on the Web, inspired this book.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition ix

Preface xix

1 The Adjunct 1

2 Writing Hell 12

3 Revelation 27

4 Compare and Contrast 32

5 The Four Stages of a Plot 51

6 Community College 73

7 Remediation 83

8 The Good Stuff 92

9 The Pain 101

10 College as Eden 113

11 Grade Inflation Temptation 129

12 The Textbooks 155

13 An Introduction to the Research Paper 166

14 Life Editing 174

15 Resonance 181

16 The Writing Workshop 187

17 Do Your Job, Professor! 198

18 Grading the Teacher 210

19 On Borrowing Liberally from Other People's Work 217

20 The College Bubble 224

21 Nobody Move 234

Notes 251

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