Thursday, July 30, 2020

Review: Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education

Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher EducationCracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education by Jason Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jason Brennan and Philip Magness present a clear and very readable critique of higher education. Having followed their work online for a while, there wasn’t a lot new to me. However, these are important criticisms with which many may not be familiar (or they are not familiar with the research that backs up the criticisms). The main lesson of the book is that the main problems of academia are not caused by bad people but by out of whack incentives for faculty, administrators, and students. The problems they focus on are: universities make lots of claims about supposed benefits that they don’t actually deliver on; student evaluations are an invalid and harmful way of evaluating teaching effectiveness; grades and GPAs are too inconsistent to be meaningful; general education requirements don’t work and are just ways for departments to get students (and money); and universities produce too many PhDs and do so primarily for their (and the professors) own standing and reputation; and lastly, students learn very little but cheat a lot. For each of these, there are incentives for otherwise well-meaning individuals to act in ways that make higher education worse.

None of this is good. As an academic, I have direct experience with pretty much each of these and their criticisms certainly fit with that experience. Unfortunately, the authors don’t have solutions: they end by saying that the only way to fix higher education is to change the incentives, but no one (including themselves) have the incentive to make the changes. (Maybe COVID will disrupt higher education enough to change some of those – so long as I don’t lose my job!)

I think Bryan Caplan’s critique of education { The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money} is a better overall book about the problems of education; but Brennan and Magness do look more closely at factors that Caplan doesn’t take on. So these go well together.

View all my reviews

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Review: The Order

The Order (Gabriel Allon #20)The Order by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gabriel is back, this time helping his friends at the Vatican again. Although some might say it was too Dan Brown-esque, Silva is telling a different kind of story, and Allon is digging into the Vatican's secrets for different reasons than Langdon. Like many of Silva's novels, he finds a way to balance the improbability of the plot elements with great characters. The dialogue is great, and the book crackles; I really enjoyed it.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 17, 2020

Review: Shadow Woman

Shadow Woman (Jane Whitefield, #3)Shadow Woman by Thomas Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A slow start, but picks up in the last half. There were a few things in the beginning that I didn't like regarding Jane and Carey's relationship: aspects of it that seemed out of character for Jane. It makes sense for the plot, but just didn't seem consistent. Once that wasn't the focus, the story got more focused.

Jane is a terrific character and seeing what and how she does what she does is very interesting. Things get a bit unsettled for her and her 'client' and this presents new challenges to Jane that ultimately make the book a good thrill.

There was not as very little Native American mythology or history and that is one of things I enjoyed about the first two books. I will read the fourth book to see what Jane does next, but I was a bit disappointed with number three.

View all my reviews