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In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: The Truth About College
     

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: The Truth About College

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by Professor X
 

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The controversial book that crystallized the current debate over the value and purpose of a college education

When Professor X's article that inspired this book was published in the Atlantic Monthly, a firestorm of controversy began as teachers across the country weighed in, some thanking him for his honesty and others pillorying him for his

Overview

The controversial book that crystallized the current debate over the value and purpose of a college education

When Professor X's article that inspired this book was published in the Atlantic Monthly, a firestorm of controversy began as teachers across the country weighed in, some thanking him for his honesty and others pillorying him for his warts-and-all portrayal of the downside of universal college enrollment. The article was chosen by David Brooks for a Sidney Award, given to the best magazine articles every year, and kicked off an anticollege backlash.

Professor X is an adjunct professor of English literature and composition, a member of the poorly paid underclass who are now teaching the vast majority of our college courses. This is the story of what he learned on the front lines of America's academic crisis.

Editorial Reviews

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
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143120292
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/27/2012
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
952,991
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Professor X has been teaching English composition and literature for ten years at two small colleges somewhere in America.

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