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How Books Bore
on July 22, 2014
Four 5-star reviews? Not a dissenting view in sight? Good grief!
I have no idea what my fellow readers read between the lines of this book that I missed. Having hewed to the lines myself, I cannot fathom the gushing praise this book received from any readers let alone all four of my fellow travelers. How College Works is one long (thankfully quick-reading) statement of the obvious (and redundant restatement of the obvious, presumably lest glassy-eyed readers fail to absorb its wisdom early on; also, perhaps, to boost its page count). I realize I'm being snarky in the extreme, and I feel a twinge of conscience for being so. After all, the authors' hearts are obviously in the right place, and the cause to which they've committed their research energies -- improving the experiences and personal outcomes of college students -- is a fine one. It's just that they fail, over the span of an entire book (the capstone of years' of study and hundreds of interviews) to make one novel observation (OK, I'm being hyperbolic; but there really are precious few interesting points in this book), nor to venture any novel hypotheses or to make any compelling proposals (I'm no longer being hyperbolic). Oh, and they thread dozens of entirely superfluous student quotes throughout the text -- pure padding. If my review seems mean-spirited, it's because books like this -- and this book, in particular, at the moment -- make me angry as a reader: angry for the opportunity cost I incurred reading this book (namely, other books I might have read instead); angry for what books like this say about publishing standards (HUPress!? Recipient of their book award!?); angry that such a trivial book can pass for scholarship (it's not inaccurate, I grant, just insipid).
The authors of this book are quite right to cast a critical eye on certain fashions in higher education, such as strategic plans (that never materialize) and assessments (done poorly). And they are also quite right to note the importance of micro-interventions in helping shape an effective broad-based learning environment. But there's micro and there's micro. Informing higher ed admin colleagues that one sort of useful intervention would be to schedule great teachers' teaching hours at times and in spaces that will maximize their contact with students (who, in their felicitous phrase, will gather to them like "cats to cream") and, conversely, to schedule lousy teachers' teaching hours at times students are likely to avoid is...well...a rather sophomoric sort of recommendation to make in a purportedly serious social science critique. And thus I thought to myself, again and again, as I read observation after observation, suggestion after mind-numbingly trifling suggestion...
OK, I'll leave off here. If I haven't managed to convince you that regardless of who you are (parent, kid, college student, professor, administrator, ...) your reading time would be better spent elsewhere, then have at. But don't say that someone on this page didn't speak truth to mediocrity.