Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Feeding the higher education trolls

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

Author: Professor X (…Charles? Is that you?)

Published: 2011 (Viking)

Pages: 250

So should everyone go to college or not?

Can we just pretend this sidewise thing is symbolic?

Professor X says no. He says telling everybody they should go to college is comparable to telling everybody they should live in a nice house, complete with the financial and existential overextension that caused the housing bubble to explode all over underprepared people’s faces and drag into debt everyone who bought into it.

Okay. I can understand that. I even like this parallel and how he eases into it through deeply personal accounts of how he got sucked into the needless real estate game himself and how that made him start teaching night classes in the first place. And I love how he talks about writing and literature. He must be a hell of an adjunct lecture.

But his passion for teaching his abstract and lovely subject clashes really loudly with his belief that a lot less professions need a class in it. He aims for reform but lands on snobby. He doesn’t have a plan to wean businesses off the need for a degree that’s creeping down the job ladder. He just tells us it sucks, and why. Which is a start.

This book was expanded from a magazine article, and after a short while, it gets repetitious enough to tell. In the back half, he pads with examples that sound almost exactly like his first examples. He also addresses the criticisms he’s received from his article, so parts sound like defensive troll-baiting, which is disconcerting in a physical book.

Don’t feed the trolls, Professor X. Just stick to writing about writing. You’re so much nicer with that. 

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