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The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society Paperback – July 24, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee (July 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566633966
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566633963
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


If there were any justice in the world, Mac Donald would be knee-deep in Pulitzer Prizes and National Magazine Awards for her pioneering work. (David Brooks The Weekly Standard)

A startlingly valuable book, whether you lean left or right. (Michael Pakenham Baltimore Sun)

Spirited, stimulating, eloquent...The Burden of Bad Ideas is social, cultural, and political criticism of the first order. (Jonathan Yardley Review Of Higher Education)

Among discussions of urban malaise, where so much hot air has been recycled, this book has the freshness of a stiff, changing breeze. (Allen D. Boyer The New York Times)

Insightful, articulate, provocative, and most importantly, valid. (Richard Lamm The Wall Street Journal)

Mac Donald is the indispensable journalist...if you question that characterization, you havenít read her work. (George Will, winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

From the Publisher

7 1.5-hour cassettes --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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Customer Reviews

Very impressive research and interesting anecdotes.
Ken Braithwaite
If one has *not* yet suspected this, it is all the more urgent that one read Heather Mac Donald's book.
Asher Waxwing
Either way, it's well worth the time and effort to read this book.
Michael Foudy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Stanley H. Nemeth on March 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The essays in Heather Mac Donald's collection are all provocative, if not inflammatory, with the most ironically insightful her piece on reforming the contemporary American school system, "Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach." Mac Donald suggests the system may neither need nor even be open to meaningful reform since it is the perfect complement for certain modern parents' methods of child-raising and for the biases spread by teacher education programs. If children are raised as imperial selves whose willfulness is to be cherished and whose behavior is not to be shaped by adult expectations, by the time such ineducable "students" reach school it is no surprise that professional "facilitators" will turn necessity into a virtue and create child-centered classrooms, spaces in which the clueless, still freed from adult authority, will lead the inept. Such parents and such educators, mutually abdicating authority to the wise child, are taking in each other's laundry, and what is there to reform, since all the key players are or should be happy? Mac Donald's are surely more important considerations than those of money, class size or computers in the classroom, and we owe her credit for calling our attention away from such palliatives to a pondering of the actual, though infrequently discussed, sentimental, anti-intellectual goals of our current schools.
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76 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Melissa L. Shogren on November 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I recently began a teacher's certification course here in the Seattle area. Our course on Learning has focused on group discussions, group camraderie building, doing skits on learning, and how we "feel" about our experiences with children. The professor also proudly stated that she was only going to discuss the Constructivist view on learning because that was the ONLY approach to learning. I thought I was going insane. Was I back at summer camp? How could an upper level college class be so trivial? So narrow-minded? How could it be so divorced from the real world of classroom teaching? After reading Ms. MacDonald's book, I now realize that this Constructivist (all knowledge is relative, students construct their own knowledge) approach to teacher training is more common than one would think. Although the essay "Why Johnnie's Teachers Can't Teach" was written in the mid 1990's, it is as if MacDonald teleported herself into the future, observed how my Learning class was being taught, teleported herself back to the 1990's and then wrote the essay based on what she saw in 2001. It is almost spooky how the author's details about "Constructivist" college classrooms are so descriptive of what I am experiencing now. Future teachers read this book before you choose where to receive teacher certification. I would have given this book 5 stars, but it really needs a bibliography.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
There have been other books exposing: (a) the terrible consequences of radical and multicultural theories and the arrogance of the obtuse people who believe in them; and (b) the journalists who act as unpaid cheerleaders for these activists, dispensing a picture of reality that is often 180 degrees away from the truth. But none of these books have been better-written than Ms. MacDonald's, which covers precisely these topics. She has a superb sense of the dramatic and the ironic and is not afraid to mete out criticism where it is warranted.
The only thing missing in this book, which I would like to have seen in it, is an in-depth analysis of the motivation of the sort of people the author depicts. Ms. MacDonald has shown us WHAT they've said and done, but we also need to know WHY. However, the WHO can tell us the why. The crackpot theories and identity politics she exposes are the exclusive property of politicians, sheltered academics, cloistered and muddle-headed bureaucrats, and professional "community activists" whose thinking is far-removed from the workaday world and the people who inhabit it. It's no accident that working-class people do not go along with these inanities, while so many upper-middle-class people do. In her Introduction, Ms. MacDonald offers an explanation for this. This cluster of trendy ideologies "assures its adherents that they are compassionate and caring, merely by virtue of subscribing to it. It gives them a sense of specialness." In other words, this set of ideological beliefs acts as medicine, which explains why its followers cling to it despite its consistent counter-productive results. Instead of relieving pain, it relieves the discomfort of upper-middle-class guilt.
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38 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Hartmann on February 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Where has Heather Mac Donald been hiding? We,in the midwest, ave not had the benefit of her writings. She obviously had a liberal education at Yale and Cambridge and must have come to these social issues with a positive outlook. It is apparent, however, that she, unlike her liberal collegues, actually went and talked to the people who were supposed to be the benefactors of the Great Society. It is, therefore, a greater pleasure to see someone carefully, slowly, and permanently destory the liberal shibboleths which have caused our societal decline. Her first chapter shows the villainy of the philanthropic foundations (Ford, Carnegie, etc.) whose boards have taken money created by capitalists and used it to destroy the values which only a capitalist system can create--hard work, responsibility, independence, and morality. They have used their funds to create programs which have had the opposite effect of their intended consequences. The creators of all this wealth would be turning in their graves if they knew how their money was being spent. This attempt by liberal socialists to order every part of society has trickled down to every aspect of our lives. Ms Mac Donald shows the smoldering, withering, destructive effect of these social programs on everything from law school, medicine, policing, to museums. Mac Donald pulls no punches and she has a lot to throw because she has been there. This is a wonderful book and a must read by anyone who cares about our American culture.
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