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In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic Hardcover – March 31, 2011

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About 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (March 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067002256X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022564
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #581,854 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 75 people found the following review helpful By P. Chrzanowski on April 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is an expanded version of an article of the same title that was published in the June, 2008 issue of The Atlantic Magazine. Overall, the book does not have much to say that was not said in the magazine article. It does digress at some length into autobiography- the author got caught up in the housing bubble and he and his wife bought more house than they could comfortably afford, and this also caused some strain in his marriage. It's included (I guess) so the reader understands how and why the author became an adjunct, but, it goes on at some length and doesn't seem necessary.

The author's thesis is that too many students go to college, driven by a job market that increasingly requires at least a 2-year degree in order to be considered for many types of employment. And, indeed, it is not obvious that an R.N. or a police officer needs to be able to discuss the works of Shakespeare of T.S. Eliot, or know how to correctly write and annotate a research paper.

But, people in these occupations (and many others) do need to be capable of clear, concise expository writing. Unfortunately, this is something many high school graduates cannot do. The author identifies the reasons: many adults are not readers; they just never read books unless they have to. And, the much of the public school education establishment has decided that "creative spelling" is acceptable, and teaching grammar is oppressive. And so, colleges at all levels now offer remedial courses in an attempt to teach incoming students what they should have learned in high school.

The author seems to believe that an inability to write is found only in "the basement of the ivory tower," but he is mistaken. I made extra money in college by helping other students edit their papers.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Barry on April 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like Professor X, I have taught writing for years at a community college (five years to be precise). I don't now teach in the classroom; I work in a writing center. But I did teach in a classroom for three semesters. I admire Professor X's perseverance in the face of what can be a very disheartening mission: to get students who are at a junior high level of reading and writing (or lower) to college level in a few semesters.

I agree with his conclusion that herding the masses into community colleges is not really in the interest of most of the students. It's great for the college's bottom line; it makes America feel good about itself; and it provides part-time employment for lots of adjuncts and full-time employment for a few teachers and administrators. Probably most important, it provides streams of revenue to the banks that loan money to millions of poorly prepared poor people, just as the banks loaned money to lots of people who couldn't really afford the houses they were buying. But unlike mortgages, student loans are nearly impossible to get out of. Many, many people are saddled with debt for years, people who were already struggling financially. People go to college because they want to make it into the middle class, but nowadays, landing a middle class job right out of college is an unattainable dream for most of these students; yet they still have to pay off their student loans.

Professor X seems to work at a pretty good community college. Not all community colleges are as well-run as his. He doesn't go into the institutional problems that can be so demoralizing to both students and faculty. Maybe someone else will write that book.

The book is funny and entertaining, particularly for teachers perhaps.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Rob Szarka on June 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower was both more and less than I expected.

I didn't expect "Professor X" to recount so much of his life outside the classroom, and I was surprised to find that I related as much to his personal as to his academic story. Unlike other reviewers, I believe this personal dimension adds something to his analysis. Professor X is on the opposite side of podium, but he has much in common with his students: his own education was unfocused and did little to prepare him for his "day job"; burdensome debt, albeit a result of the housing bubble rather than the education bubble, led him to take on a second job, so he spends less time with his family than he would like; and the effects of bad choices earlier in his life can't simply be edited away. Perhaps this is the source of the compassion he clearly feels for the men and women who struggle through his classes.

Nor did I expect to enjoy Professor X's writing for its own sake. True, his style is (perhaps understandably) self-conscious, and he often overreaches. But a decade in the trenches hasn't killed the obvious pleasure he takes in crafting an apt turn of phrase. When he succeeds, his joy is contagious. Likewise, I was surprised to learn that, despite his circumstances, Professor X does enjoy teaching. He seems to get much more than a paycheck from his time in classroom. (Those who find the early chapters too depressing should skip ahead to chapter 8 ("The Good Stuff") or chapter 15 ("Resonance").)

What I did expect from this book was a clear-eyed assessment of the state of higher education in the US, and I was not disappointed. Professor X sticks primarily to his own experiences and facts about general trends, but his observations ring true.
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