ic Deresiewicz (A Jane Austen Education) expands his notorious American Scholar essay
into a jeremiad against elite colleges, the
Ivy League and, in particular, Yale, where
he taught English. Students, he argues, are
“smart and talented and driven... but also
anxious, timid, and lost”; narcissistic helicopter parents—Tiger-Mom Amy Chua
gets lambasted—pressure them to trade
fulfillment for money and status. According to the author, colleges with indifferent
teaching and incoherent curricula offer no
guidance on intellectual development or
character formation; the whole system reinforces a class hierarchy that “equates virtue,
dignity, and happiness with material success.” Entwined with his j’accuse is an impassioned, idealistic plea to reclaim the undergraduate years as a journey of self-discovery guided by engaged professors who
challenge students to think for themselves
instead of following the flock to Wall
Street. Deresiewicz’s critique of America’s
most celebrated schools as temples of mercenary mediocrity is lucid, sharp-edged,
and searching, and if he sometimes too easily dismisses the practical expectations surrounding ruinously expensive degrees, he
poses vital questions about what college
teaches—and why. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse
Cheney Literary Associates. (Aug.)
Building a Better Teacher:
How Teaching Works (and How to
Teach It to Everyone)
Elizabeth Green. Norton, $27.95 (320p) ISBN
Journalist and cofounder of the news organization GothamSchools, Green promises to reveal how better teaching works and
how everyone (or at least every teacher) can
be taught how to do it. Unfortunately, the
book promises more than it delivers.
Green’s primary argument concerns the
need for better teacher training (less attention to “teachers’ effect,” more attention to
successful classroom practice), and one of
her most insightful observations concerns
the shifts that occurred when “
universities... began to add the lucrative teacher-training business to their repertoires.” The
material she cites most heavily comes from
two distinguished specialists in training
teachers to teach mathematics (Magdalene
Lampert and Deborah Loewenberg Ball)
and “from the world of educational entrepreneurs” (Doug Lemov, managing direc-
How did you come to write this book?
What sparked this book were photographs in the New York Times Lens Blog
by Jared Soares. He spotlighted this
community that’s been
decimated by globalization. His photographs
were very moving, [like]
the picture of a food bank
where the director said he
could tell what people
used to do by their ailments. Every time a factory closed, our paper [the
Roanoke Times] would write
about it, but not until Jared started doing the after-effects work
did it hit me that this is the real story.
My neighbor, who owns a furniture
store, grew up in this area, and he said,
“There’s still one person [John Bassett
III] left making furniture. He’s just a
character. He took on China.” Bassett
did these really inspiring things to keep
people employed. You can go through
the two towns, Bassett, [Va.] (where he’s
from) and Galax (where his factory is
now), and Galax is alive and vibrant, and
Bassett, there’s really nothing but the
corporate office where people still design
the furniture and coordinate logistics. It
used to be this booming town with over
3,000 people. Now it’s about 1,300.
The Bassetts were willing to hire blacks
in the 1920s. You discuss how race was
intertwined with the town of Bassett.
When John Bassett Sr. said, “[The] Ne-
groes made me,” I thought, that’s it. He
even admitted it. Then to have those old
black workers say exactly the same thing
without knowing he had said that, word
for word. They said, “We made them
rich, we made them who they are.” This
issue is very much alive here.
You note the furniture-making industry
has now moved to Indonesia because they
have the cheapest labor.
What were your impres-
sions when you visited?
I recently checked back
with the head of the Stanley Furniture Company in
Indonesia because previously he thought it was
going to last 10 years, and
now he thinks it’s more
like three or four years.
Interviewing the factory
workers and managers there, I asked if
they gave any thought to the people
whose jobs they’ve replaced. And they
just looked at me and giggled. Then
they said very seriously: “But we do
worry about the people who are going to
replace us.” The people I interviewed
were mostly women who described how
[these jobs] helped improve their lives.
They can send their kids to school now
and buy their uniforms and books.
You say manufacturing is returning to
the U.S. How permanent do you think
that trend is?
We’ve lost six million factory jobs since
2000, but only 500,000 have returned.
When [jobs] do come back, they tend to
be higher tech, more machinery, a bit
better paying, but you better have some
skills. There’s a new factory in Roanoke
County that makes aluminum cans for
food, and those jobs pay $25 an hour,
but you have to have training. Somebody displaced from a furniture factory
is not going to qualify for that.
PW Talks with Beth Macy
In Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Lo-
cal—and Helped Save an American Town (Reviews, Mar. 17; pub month,
July 15), journalist Macy traces the effects of globalization on Ameri-
can manufacturing via the story of one Virginia family.