Monday, December 13, 2010

Booknote: The Five-Year Party

My review as I posted it on my GoodReads page.

The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About ItThe Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It by Craig Brandon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Initially, this book started interesting, but after a while Brandon's strong biases, including his desire for more in loco parentis and treating 18-year-olds like minors, basically overwhelmed the book. That there is a slight hysterical and/or alarmist tone to the book probably does not help. And the thing is that a lot of what he writes about is true, and that something needs to be done about it. However, after a while, the messages seem to get lost in the alarmist writing.

So, what are the basic messages of the book? Allow me to summarize, and for many, this may save you from reading the whole thing:

*Kids are coming to college less prepared than ever. OK, this is not really new, and we could go on a new rant just discussing how public schools have basically become holding pens rather than actual educational institutions. Thus, they are less ready for college.

*However, that they are unprepared for college does not seem to matter given that colleges are pretty much giving kids a not-quite-free pass. The big deal is that colleges have gone from educational institutions to business ventures. In the spirit of being business ventures, keeping the customers (i.e. the college students) who pay the tuition (and thus the revenue the college needs) happy at all costs becomes the main concern. Course too hard? Dumb it down? Professor grades too hard and makes you work? Get him or her to make class more fun, grade less, give less homework, and curve the grades. And if he does not comply, well, the customer (student) can get even at the end of year evaluation. You can rest assured that guy won't be getting tenure when review time comes around. This is another thing I could go on another rant about because working in higher education I have seen and lived it. As an adjunct many moons ago, I had students throw tantrums because they thought the classwork was too hard and interfered with their partying. And that is just one example.

*College is not safe. We are dealing with kids who just became adults; legal adulthood in most places is 18 years of age whether Mr. Brandon and other paternalistic people like it or not. Sadly, for many of these new adults, it means extreme freedom, and they will do stupid and even deadly things. The problems really surface when the administration just wants to hide it using things like FERPA and just cooking the books in relation to the Clery Act. This is where the author and I disagree. Author advocates basically treating the college students like children again. I say, if they are adults, treat them as such. Let the local police handle them (after all, they are adults living in the college town) and let the students take their consequences. Expel them if need be too. This would make sense, but see the previous point about school being a business; you can't expel your source of revenue.

*The college loans racket that basically turns students into oppressed indentured servants. And this is just going to keep getting worse as states and society give up on their social contract of investing in the future generations and the families have to turn more to loans to pay for their students' educations. Loan money that the colleges are glad to take (again, see school as a business pattern. Do you get the idea now?) without regard to whether the kids succeed or not. However, the longer the kids stay in school, the more money they get.

The book makes some very important points. I do think a lot of parents should be reading it, especially the section at the end with the key questions and red flags about what makes a party school. By the way, I don't think a lot of what he says applies to only "party" schools. However, as I said, much of the good message gets lost in the demonizing of colleges; see the chapters on college safety. While there are dangers, Brandon makes it sound like most colleges in America are teeming with rapists, murderers, and drug dealers waiting for your kids to come out from their nightly Greek house drunken bacchanalias. Yes, there are dangers. Yes, in many instances, a lot of kids party way too much. No, not all campuses are like that, but the ones that are need to be exposed. And students certainly need to have better work ethic, but society needs to demand it too.

So, overall, there is some food for thought here, but as a reading, it is not too great. Once you get the basic points, the rest seems a bit redundant.

View all my reviews

No comments: