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The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us Hardcover – September 10, 2019
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—Tara Westover, author of Educated: A Memoir, New York Times Book Review
“Gorgeously reported. Vividly written. Utterly lucid. Paul Tough jumps skillfully between deeply engaging personal narratives and the bigger truths of higher education. The way he tells the stories of these students, it’s impossible not to care about them and get angry on their behalf.”
—Ira Glass, host, This American Life
“A stunning piece of work. The Years That Matter Most is ostensibly about higher education, about the college experience—and on that level, it’s a completely absorbing narrative with some very surprising, trenchant analysis. But it’s also a lot more than that. It’s a book about class in America. It’s a book about social mobility. And it’s a devastating report card on the American dream. It’s just a very special book.”
—Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind (at WBUR’s CitySpace)
“I’ve been begging everyone I know to read this book….It’s an utterly absorbing, utterly enlightening, utterly important book about classism in American higher education and the myth of meritocracy.” —Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, in “By the Book,” New York Times Book Review
“[Tough’s] urgent account combines cogent data and artful storytelling to show how higher education has veered from its meritocratic ideals to exacerbate society’s inequality.”
—New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
“Can’t recommend this book highly enough. Paul Tough lights a fuse that blows up every piety that American higher education—and indeed, the American upper class—tells itself about elite colleges.”
—Dana Goldstein, New York Times (via Twitter)
“What’s best about the book, a fruit of all the time Tough spent with his subjects, is that it humanizes the process of higher education. He has fascinating stories about efforts to remediate class disparities in higher education, some of which have succeeded and some of which may have made matters worse.”
—Louis Menand, The New Yorker
“A complex, essential book that asks an urgent question: Is our current higher education system designed to protect the privileged and leave everyone else behind? A fascinating, troubling read.”
—Heidi Stevens, The Chicago Tribune
“Paul Tough’s important new book on the broken promises of higher education begins with a chapter that he succeeds in making as suspenseful as the prologue of any serial-killer novel and as heart-rending as the climax of an epic romance . . . Among his book’s many vital contributions are its portraits of schools and programs that model a better way.”
—Frank Bruni, New York Times
“A comprehensive, moving account of the inequalities that block many poor, minority and first-generation students from realizing the benefits of a college education.”
—Michael T. Nietzel, Forbes
“Paul Tough’s daring The Years That Matter Most forces us to unfold the suffering built into the creases of American higher education. It refuses to let us forget about the bodies and lives of real students. It should be necessary reading for every student, professor, administrator, and trustee in this country interested in what radical revision looks like.”
—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir
“Paul Tough is a thinker to cherish: formidably clear-eyed, incandescently learned, and unshakably hopeful. Diving deep into the rewards, challenges, and perils of the American university system, The Years That Matter Most reveals the heavy price a society pays when it no longer pulls together to give its young people the education they need. An extraordinary, indispensable book.”
—Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“Paul Tough is a beautiful reporter and writer and a deeply moral guide to understanding the situation of children in our heartless meritocracy. The Years That Matter Most is a great book that should start a necessary conversation about the high cost of the race to the top.”
—George Packer, author of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America and Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century
“All of the books by best-selling author Paul Tough have been meaningful . . . [The Years that Matters Most] arrives at the very moment when energized voters are pressing presidential hopefuls on how they would help all young people reach a middle-class life.”
—Esther Cepeda, syndicated columnist
“Does for college admissions what Michael Lewis’s Moneyball did for sabermetrics . . . The bright, hopeful sections are a source of inspiration and joy.”
—Jessica Lahey, Air Mail
“[Tough] writes movingly about students who are trying to navigate the confounding, expensive, and intimidating process of getting into and staying in college.”
“Paul Tough’s new book makes the powerful case that the system just isn’t as fair as it should be.”
—Katie Couric, Wake-Up Call
“A deeply reported and damning portrait of fraying American social mobility . . . a clear-eyed portrait of what a stacked game it really is.”
“Drawing on broad reading and visits to campuses across the country, Tough’s work offers an indictment of American society and political structures and persuasively argues that universities must fulfill the American commitment to equality of opportunity.”
—Library Journal, starred review
“Tough clearly shows that college placement remains mostly about wealth at the expense of a collective educational environment. A good choice for aspiring college students and their parents.”
“In this fascinating study, education journalist Tough (How Children Succeed) argues persuasively that access to an elite college education, which in the U.S. is popularly believed to be a meritocratically distributed social equalizer, is in fact distributed in ways that reinforce existing economic divisions... His analyses of data are sound, his portraits of students and teachers sympathetic, his argument neatly structured, and his topic one with wide appeal. This well-written and persuasive book is likely to make a splash.”
“Tough’s book explores the real and terrifying idea that what you do (or don’t do) between the ages of 18 and 22—or even 16 to 25—profoundly shapes the course of your life . . . moving and memorable.”
—The Hechinger Report
“A timely reassessment of the promise that higher education offers everyone the same opportunity to move up in the world . . . no big players escapes Tough’s critical eye.”
—Rebecca Koenig, EdSurge
“By combining rigorous research with compelling personal narratives, Tough crafts a work that is not only a status report on the changing world of higher education, but also a revelatory look at how social mobility works in America.”
—Brendan Dowling, Public Libraries Online
About the Author
PAUL TOUGH is the author of Helping Children Succeed and How Children Succeed, which spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover and paperback bestseller lists and was translated into twenty-eight languages. He is also the author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America. He is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and a regular contributor to the public-radio program This American Life. You can learn more about his work at paultough.com and follow him on Twitter @paultough.
- Item Weight : 1.32 pounds
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0544944480
- Product dimensions : 6 x 1.26 x 9 inches
- Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 10, 2019)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #73,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Tough's at his best in explaining the machinations of the College Board and its SAT test. He lays bare the hypocrisy, and chronicles the many times the College Board has announced, with fanfare, findings that show the test isn't biased toward the affluent, or that 'tips and tricks' test prep isn't important, only to follow months, even years, of no substantiation, culminating -- finally -- in a buried report that their 'breakthrough research' is hollow at best, and deeply deceptive at worst. At one point, he likens their marketing to cover up the damage done to low-income, high-potential kids as along the lines of the tobacco companies. Wow!
You'll follow a particularly successful SAT tutor in Washington, DC, who charges $400 per hour!! He starts by explaining to his (always quite affluent) customers that the SAT is a joke, tests nothing of consequence, and it's important not to view your score as a reflection of anything important, other than its impact on the college admissions process. He helps kids learn how not to stress over it, and shows them those little shortcuts that increase their chances of answering a question right, without understanding anything fundamental. And you see that these high-priced tutors really move the test-score needle for their affluent client base, while free alternatives like Khan Academy's SAT test prep offerings are ineffective. And you get a real sense of how the College Board tooled Khan Academy into its marketing message of, "Hey, we're so committed to equity that we'll make sure all students have access to high-quality test prep," when in fact it's the $400 tutors who matter, not free online lectures.
After reading this book, you'll have a much better understand of the significant gap between colleges and the College Board purporting to help level society's playing field, and the cold, hard reality of a college system that works almost entirely for the affluent. It's an eye-opening examination of what many in our country view as a path of opportunity, but which the data show is a highly effective means of locking in privilege to our nation's most affluent. The implications of this are, to be sure, profound.
At the end, I found that pang of regret that no further chapters await me, for now. But I would love for the author to consider a few other issues in his next work. The Years That Matter Most doesn't address how much our students are really learning in school, and whether our schools really do prepare our kids for success, or just rank them on hollow exercises. There's a telling chapter about the role calculus plays in 'weeding out kids,' and a quasi-inspiring story about a program at the University of Texas to help entering students (especially those who didn't have a background in calculus from their high school). Left unaddressed is that fact that even our science and engineering professionals don't do integrals by hand anymore -- it's all done computationally. Left unaddressed is how many majors (e.g., business, biology) nonsensically require calculus as a prerequisite. Or how when students take calculus, they generally miss out on statistics -- something that opens career doors, and is invaluable for citizenship and many personal decisions. But there's only so much that can be covered in one book.
Make no mistake, Paul Tough's latest book is yet another vital contribution to our understanding of the world of education, and how is helps, and impairs, life prospects for millions. Read this. And if you know someone who works in college admissions, send them a copy!!
According to higher education critics, here are only four colleges available to you:
Ivy Elite University: This is the stuffy, centuries-old campus that produces the future leaders of government and business. The school’s endowment is larger than the GDP of a small country. The students lack diversity in almost every category except for a few token examples. They are the sons and daughters of the current leaders of government and business. Despite all of this, every student – and I mean every student - wants to go here.
Big Party University: Ok, so you were not the brightest bulb in high school, but you were not the dullest knife either. You learned not to mix your metaphors but you also knew how to have fun. College is the next, natural step.
Community College: This is the fallback plan. School maybe isn’t your thing and despite studying hard, you never achieved great grades. Fortunately, there is a college in town that can jumpstart you in the right direction. You will feel discouraged and perhaps shame, but don’t worry, society doesn’t expect much from you. It doesn’t even expect you to finish your associate’s degree.
For Profit University: Congratulations, you have been scammed. If you are lucky, you have received a worthless degree and a lot of debt. Good luck.
These four colleges do not accurately define American higher education. It’s easy to generalize and oversimplify. It’s easy to find errors and bemoan the whole system. Higher education is very complex. Education, as a whole, is extremely complicated. I have not found a system of higher education, in any country, that is perfect or categorically better. A system to educate a whole society is relatively new. As the author mentions in this book, at the start of the 20th century, most adults did not have a high school education. In just one short century, education has revolutionized and by the time the 21st century is over, it will be completely transformed again.
So here’s my take…
Ivy Elite University has its place. I think we overvalue degrees from specific schools. I don’t think a Harvard degree should be considered better than a degree from a public university, but I can’t control that. Brand names are extremely powerful. Why does a leather purse from one store cost thousands of dollars but only a few bucks at another?
Big Party University: Look, any school can be a party school. Almost every college in America that serves traditional undergraduate students will have parties. Some students go to these schools, get an education and never attend one party. You are not legally bound to party.
Community College: The stigma around community colleges is frustrating. Community colleges are great resources and I wish they had more resources. A million-dollar donation to a community college would serve thousands of students, a million-dollar donation to an Ivy Elite University would serve half a student, maybe.
For Profit University: Um, I don’t have anything here. I am not a fan of for profit schools.
I had a great college experience. The college I attended does not fit neatly into the aforementioned categories. Most colleges don’t fit these categories. College made me a better person. I am a proud of my degrees.
I thought this book was decent. The author is definitely critical of the system but rightly so. There is a lot of information about inequity in the system from misguided standardized tests and the lack of support for first-generation students. However, when I finished this book, I did not feel enlightened. I didn’t find anything new.
I felt like the book had a lot of filler; lots of biographical information on his subjects and descriptions of the rooms he is sitting in.
I don’t think I would recommend this to anyone who knew a lot about higher education already.