Pinky's Reviews > Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

Academically Adrift by Richard Arum
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's review
Jan 30, 2011

really liked it
Read from January 27 to 29, 2011

After receiving a pretty lucrative grant from some folks I just can't name here, at my former gig at Pacific Tech, I recruited a large group of our best and brightest to help me work on some really exciting, cutting-edge science. We were building a laser--something that could revolutionize the industry. But these kids--bright as they may have been--needed motivation. They were a slack bunch, always goofing off. I needed to ride them hard, and I did. Without my sense of discipline, all bets would have been off--they'd have faded into the muddling mediocrity that is American higher ed.

The worst offender was Chris Knight. Worst because Knight was probably the most intelligent and the least ambitious, and his sarcasm and tomfoolery tainted everyone. I was working very hard to get young Mitch (whose last name I'll keep mum, to protect him) on track, but Knight... Knight really steams me, you know? With his pool parties and his ironic t-shirts. The project did get back on track for a while, 'til Knight famously blew up my plans with that popcorn stunt. That shit-eating little weasel confirms everything this book argues.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Didn't he tamper with the vending machines as well? Kids these days.

Pinky Some recent responses/reviews (and to passersby -- my apologies for using GR as a kind of personal document, but I'm trying to keep a running bibliography and some thoughts, for some future reference):

--brief overview with some further comments from authors and others

--a more personal reaction, and a bit reductive in its response, this time from the Chronicle of Higher Ed

For me, the key issue is the need to focus on

a) real accountability about learning that is grounded in discipline-specific and institution-specific outcomes and assessment, as the authors themselves argue,


b) a real commitment to a learning-centered model of education (see, e.g., the a crucial argument for this shift by Barr & Tagg).

I fear that the takeaway in debates will be boiled down to a couple of key claims, each of which have merit but are symptoms not the disease: that students are overcommitted off-campus and undercommitted to schooling; that classes aren't rigorous enough; that social integration models (all the rage, and often most prominently engaged via institutions' student affairs divisions) are wrong. The arguments Arum and Roksa make are more nuanced than that, and the implications for the deeper diagnosis they provide are more far-reaching in their critique of the whole culture of higher ed--a systemic set of failures, reinforced by institutional practices which reaffirm these behaviors of students and faculty.

Pinky Ceridwen wrote: "Didn't he tamper with the vending machines as well? Kids these days."

Yes. Knight was a menace.

message 4: by karen (new)

karen i had no idea that was you. you really are a jack of all trades.

message 5: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine As a graduate student I can tell you the smarter they are the less motivated. I mean it's not a direct correlation but it's definitely a trend.

I think it comes from the fact that in college interesting insightful work that took you weeks gets a B. and the Shit you can pull out of your ass based on class notes gets an A. It makes it tough to give a shit.

I say this as one of the least motivated graduate students I know.

message 6: by Chris (last edited Jan 30, 2011 08:20AM) (new) - added it

Chris Strange. I was just about to start reading this.

Pinky @Jasmine: I dropped out of grad school the first go-round. The second time, I realized (in my field) that grades don't mean shit. If I got a B, or an A, it would have NO bearing on my professional future. So I stopped caring about professorial approval and did the stuff that seemed most interesting/important to me. My motivation came 'cause I realized how easily I could separate what the institution cared about and what I wanted. That also made grad school (round 2) a lot more fun for me than for many of my pals.

@Chris: Hey! Good to see you, my man. Does your beard hurt?

message 8: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine yeah that's how it should be. I'm currently walking the thin line between what I want to do and what I have to do for them to want to let me keep going through the Phd. Hopefully, when I get in, I can re-evaluate and stop worrying about the fact that my advisor hates my research topic. It's all politics.

message 9: by Chris (last edited Jan 30, 2011 10:54AM) (new) - added it

Chris Yes, Mike, it really hurts. I don't like having a beard.

Also, I'm working toward a Master's in public policy (got my undergrad more than 10 years ago) and I feel that I'm a better student now because I care less about my GPA -- which led to various shortcuts such as finding all of the easy professors and reading only the first sentence of each paragraph in my assigned readings -- and more about actually trying to learn something. If only I had been as mature when I was 18. If only I had attended an institution of higher learning that demanded more of me.

message 10: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine well I was like that in undergrad but for my grad program 2 years in 75 become 13, and well I want to be part of that 13. But I have no electives, so I didn't take easy classes.

message 11: by RandomAnthony (new)

RandomAnthony We already talked about this on facebook. Dammit.

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