Shimer College

September 27, 2013

Titles to Watch Out For

Sometimes the titles of books tell you all about the field of inquiry. Sometimes, not so much.

Sometimes the titles of books tell you all about the field of inquiry. Sometimes, not so much. And, of course, one cannot (they say) tell a book by its cover. Having said that, here are three that I find both humorous in terms of titles, and important in terms of their substance. Please add more in the comments?

1. What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and “Bias” in Higher Education (NY: W.W. Norton, 2006) is by Michael Berube, who teaches literature at Penn State. This is exactly the question many ask. Hence, I like the title. (I confess: I actually really like the use of scare quotation marks around the word ‘bias.’)  There is much here to encouner – challenges to many accepted views. Two quotations are perhaps illustrative. First: “Good teaching requires all kinds of ventriloquism” (p. 12) simply illustrates Berube’s tone. More crucially, the chapter in which it appears is entitled “Reasonable Disagreements.” And, for Berube, this is not an oxymoron. Berube also uses in an eloquent and touching way, his own exposure to issues around disability, his own classroom, and his own field to push back against some jeremiads against today’s university. Whether one agrees or not (and I often do), his arguments are critical to the ongoing debate about the nature of what we do. (And no, there was no second quotation. ) 

2. A second title I love: Anxious Intellects: Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values (Durham, NC: Duke University Press) by John Michael. I like this not only because its author has two first names nor only because it has a terrific riff on phrenology mapping of the skull as its cover (what bump do you think links to identity politcs? to anti-intellectualism?). It is the title that gets me, linking as it does anxiety to intellect – yes, I believe this caught virtually every academic I know in a kind of mirror of self-identification. Plus, the book offers commentary on Berube. 

3. We’re Losing Our Minds: Rethinking America Higher Education (New York: Palgrave MacMillan: 2011) is more obviously focused on today’s debate about what higher eductaion is and how it “should” be operating. Best ironic title ever? Maybe. Its authors (one a friend) are consultants (and a former college president) whose love for liberal education shines. Their call for change is, in part, a call to revalue what is critically important: what education is and what it is for. 

What’s on your reading list that affects your view of higher education? Share please?