ERIC Number: EJ935365
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Feb-15
Reference Count: N/A
Biting the Hand: A Commentary on Academe's Books about Itself
Halfond, Jay A.
New England Journal of Higher Education, Feb 2011
In this article, the author discusses a new literary genre which seems to be booming--book-length critiques on the state of American higher education. While a few celebrate American exceptionalism, most lament the decline of higher learning. Whether exuberant or depressed, their tone is rarely tempered. The authors' demographics suggest why--they are generally at the twilight of their own academic careers, taking one last shot at the state of things as they see it, harkening back to times past, turning to (or, in many cases, turning on) the environment they think they know best, and tempted to generalize from their own context, values, and times to higher learning broadly. As with the Buddhist parable of the elephant and the blind men, they focus on what they know and willingly extrapolate. These authors often overlook the rich diversity of what higher education encompasses in society. They fail to get their heads around that variety to appreciate the complexities, contradictions and overarching trends that make American academe truly unique. Their approach is often self-referential and anecdotal, settling old scores and getting in the last word on what it means to be truly educated. Writing as much as a memoir as methodical analysis, these authors make sweeping generalizations with words that convey hopelessness and despair as universities sink further into their graves. The flipside of the muscular idealism of American higher education is the cynical self-bashing that has such a large audience in academe. Given the range of institutions, models, and missions, and with so many universities too intricate in themselves to be neatly characterized, these authors have a Rorschach test of an opportunity to free associate, exaggerate and pontificate on what they think they see and what they believe should predominate.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: Rorschach Test