Friday, August 26, 2005

Guide to Choosing the Right "Point": Don't.

Well, as we expected, the recent series of “Points” devoted to higher education ends with a full-throated endorsement of the book Choosing the Right College put out by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

You don’t need to hear any more from me about the politics behind the ISI itself. Needless to say, the political slant of the organization (and its guide) goes unmentioned in correspondent Dina Nesheiwat’s report. We are simply told that “the guide covers topics that matter most to the serious student such as the presence or absence of courses key to a well-rounded liberal arts education.”

I haven’t read the book myself, so I can’t comment directly on it. Instead, I’ve gone to and compiled some telling excerpts from customer reviews written by people of various political stripes who have read it.

Before we get to those, I just wanted to point out one particularly unethical aspect of the way this whole series has been framed. Mark Hyman has often claimed that criticism of “The Point” for its reactionary views is immaterial, since it the excerpts are clearly labeled “commentary.” The views, we are told, are simply those of Hyman himself, and not those of Sinclair.

But as we’ve seen, this entire series was created in a way to make it appear as a news report, not commentary. This reached a new low in the final installment. In introducing the segment by Nesheiwat, Hyman says, “Correspondent Dina Nesheiwat filed this report.,” [Emphases mine]. Nesheiwat herself concludes the piece, ”For the Point. In Wilmington, Delaware. I'm Dina Nesheiwat.”

This language (along with the conceit of having the piece done by someone other than Hyman and taking the form of interviews) is meant to do one thing: give the segment the feel of a standard news report, despite the fact that those creating it and those interviewed in it have a specific political agenda. Could there be a more obvious example of a lack of journalistic ethics?

As for the book itself, longtime readers might remember that at about this time last year “The Point” editorialized in favor of Choosing the Right College and we responded by exposing the conservative slant of the guide, including a couple of reader reviews. What follows below is a lengthier list of excerpts culled from reviews of various editions of the book.

To be fair, we must note that there were many positive reviews of the book as well. But as some other reviewers noted, this is the sort of book that will get rave reviews from people who happen to share its narrow political ideology. What’s most telling about the excerpts I’ve included is that many of them don’t simply criticize the book because it takes a conservative point of view. Some reviewers note that the book is filled with objective, factual inaccuracies and typos, and doesn’t include an index (both indicators of slovenly editorial practices and inattention to detail). Others note that the book only reviews highly selective and highly expensive colleges. If you are a parent of a student with a B average and/or if you don’t have at least $25,000 dollars a year burning a hole in your pocket, the guide is close to useless, no matter what your political persuasion.

Another reviewer who described himself as a conservative who didn’t want his son becoming some sort of “Alan Alda-type” liberal (and who presumably is precisely the target audience for this book) noted that even for parents with a conservative political and social streak, the book is misleading. He said that the book only rates colleges based on criteria such as core curriculum and whether or not the institutions have (gasp!) a women’s studies program or not. As a result, he describes taking his son on campus visits to some colleges recommended by the guide, only to find out that these colleges had major problems with binge drinking and were widely known as “party schools.” Apparently even as a guide for conservative parents and students, the book fails.

Here, in no particular order, are excerpts from the reader reviews of Choosing the Right College by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

The book absolutely lambasts schools that harbor
outspoken and/or outrageous liberal professors, women's studies departments,
African-American studies departments, gay/lesbian activities, etc. The reality
is that these things are a very small part of what goes on at schools like
Stanford, Harvard, and Brown. They do not have enough critical mass to affect a
serious student. It would be a mistake to throw out any school based upon this
book's comments in this area.

There are complaints from seemingly unhappy students about politicized
departments, but they're only politicized if they lean left-ward. This book
tends to hate Africana and Women's Studies programs. It kept complaining about
how Stanford abandoned its Western Civ requirement for a world cultures,
American cultures, and gender studies requirement, then quotes a student who
says, "The General Education Requirement forces students to take some sort of
feminist class." Well, call me crazy, but I'm reading that it's a world
cultures, American cultures, AND gender studies requirement, not just gender

This book, like so many voices in America today, tells readers to avoid exposure
to facts and arguments from different political perspectives. Is the case for
the Right today so intellectually fragile that students need to be counseled to
avoid certain classes, programs, and colleges, lest they be "corrupted"?

The book can hardly be called a college guide because it looks at only 125
schools. Of these, the vast majority are either Ivies, other highly selective
private schools or a few prestigious state universities (e.g.,Berkeley). The
target audience for this book consists of honor students with minimum board
scores of 1,300 or better. It provides little meaningful information for the 'B'
average student.

I am so disappointed with the gross printing and factual errors that the book
contains. I'd like to be charitable and say that everyone makes a mistake, but,
in this case, there are too many glaring errors for one not to be insulted for
paying money for the book.

The back of the book states that the book is "based on in-depth research."
However, the work fails to site any sources of information.

This book's subtitle is: "the whole truth about American's top schools" which is
misleading to the extreme. The authors use this volume to identify universities
and colleges which don't conform to their conservative view of the world. The
descriptions of schools such as Brown and Dartmouth are not only unfair and
misrepresentative, the tone is sometimes nasty and plain mean spirited. "The
whole truth"? -- not even part of it.

So, a book that receives praise from conservatives such as Thomas Sowell and Dr.
Laura Schlesinger ought to sound alarm bells immediately in the head of the
person seeking a BALANCED college guide. The reviews of the schools inside
pretty much criminalize intellectualism, freedom, and the Young Democrats.

From the editorial reviews posted, I expected a lot of information about HOW to
choose the right college (as the title suggests). Unfortunately, only about 25
pages were devoted to this subject.

"Choosing the Right College" is written by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute
(ISI) with no authors listed. This is because there can't really be actual
people around who feel that all advances in higher education made since the
1950's are bad.

Recently, we reviewed several of the current college guides in preparation for
helping some grandchildren. Each guide provided some useful information that was
not available in the others (and each was lacking in some way), but the ISI
guide seemed to have a strong political agenda that, unfortunately, clouded the
opinions provided.

I found this book very strange. It is misrepresenting itself as a general
college guide. The only people who would find it helpful are neo-conservatives
whose only criteria in choosing a university is that it not have any "feminists"
or "multiculturalism" on campus.

I have visited one of the colleges this book recommends, and examined its
library carefully. I was appalled. Apparently any scientific discoveries that
post-date the 1840s cannot be part of the "core curriculum". No thanks. Not for
me. I'll send my kids to university, where they can study the classics AND study
subjects whose very names were unknown to the ancients.

And those are The Counterpoints.

PS. As far as my predictions that I made earlier in the week, I’m giving myself 2.5 out of 3. Dina Nesheiwat does in fact seem to be the same 23 year old fashion model by the same name, and the ISI’s Choosing the Right College was the guide recommended by “The Point.” The group “Accuracy in Academia” was not cited, but I’m giving myself half credit since I did say that ISI would be mentioned. Of course, being able to predict the contents of “The Point” is not exactly a major achievement—originality is not a quality Hyman possesses in abundance.


At 10:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a parent involved in the college search for my son, who started college in the fall of 2007, I found that Princeton Review's Best 361 Colleges to be nearly useless. In contrast, ISI's "Choosing the Right College" provides much more information of interest for the colleges it covers. Your criticisms are off-target. Even liberal/progressive/socialist students can find useful information in the Guide. It really concerns itself more with whether or not a school requires an old-fashioned core curriculum focused on Western Civilization than it does with conservatism. If the parent or student wants to be part of the Hate-America crowd and avoid such fare, then this is the only guide that I know of that contains such information. By the way, ISI publishes a separate guide called "All-American Colleges" for conservatives, old-fashioned liberals, and people of faith. "Choosing the Right College" includes many schools that charitably might be called unfriendly to conservatives.


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