The Academic Revolution

Transaction Publishers
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The Academic Revolution describes the rise to power of professional scholars and scientists, first in America's leading universities and now in the larger society as well. Without attempting a full-scale history of American higher education, it outlines a theory about its development and present status. It is illustrated with firsthand observations of a wide variety of colleges and universities the country over-colleges for the rich and colleges for the upwardly mobile; colleges for vocationally oriented men and colleges for intellectually and socially oriented women; colleges for Catholics and colleges for Protestants; colleges for blacks and colleges for rebellious whites.

The authors also look at some of the revolution's consequences. They see it as intensifying conflict between young and old, and provoking young people raised in permissive, middle-class homes to attacks on the legitimacy of adult authority. In the process, the revolution subtly transformed the kinds of work to which talented young people aspire, contributing to the decline of entrepreneurship and the rise of professionalism. They conclude that mass higher education, for all its advantages, has had no measurable effect on the rate of social mobility or the degree of equality in American society.

Jencks and Riesman are not nostalgic; their description of the nineteenth-century liberal arts colleges is corrosively critical. They maintain that American students know more than ever before, that their teachers are more competent and stimulating than in earlier times, and that the American system of higher education has brought the American people to an unprecedented level of academic competence. But while they regard the academic revolution as having been an historically necessary and progressive step, they argue that, like all revolutions, it can devour its children. For Jencks and Riesman, academic professionalism is an advance over amateur gentility, but they warn of its dangers and limitations: the elitism and arrogance implicit in meritocracy, the myopia that derives from a strictly academic view of human experience and understanding, the complacency that comes from making technical competence an end rather than a means.

Christopher Jencks is Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is the author of Rethinking Social Policy: Race, Poverty and the Underclass, The Homeless, and co-editor of The Black-White Text Score Gap.

David Riesman is Henry Ford II Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Harvard University. He is the author of Thorstein Veblen, Abundance for What, The Lonely Crowd, and Variety in American Education.
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Publisher
Transaction Publishers
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Published on
Nov 30, 2001
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Pages
580
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ISBN
9781412835770
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Language
English
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Genres
Education / Higher
Education / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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This is a brilliant and unconventional study of one of the most challenging figures in modern social and economic thought. David Riesman has chosen a deliberately personal method of exposition and evaluation, and he is by no means a disciple. He says of Veblen: “I find him more often interesting than attractive, more often pungent than wise.” By approaching Veblen subjectively and in a critical spirit, Riesman has arrived at an estimate of the man that is objective and balanced.

Veblen's ideas and attitudes are carefully examined, with particular attention to his conviction that “the instinct of workmanship” was the constructive element in life, and to his fundamental principle of “idle curiosity.” Veblen is seen as a man with a passionate moral sense whose method was irony coupled with research. Riesman makes the interesting point that the author of The Theory of the Leisure Class was episodically a passionate, even revolutionary reformer, in contrast to a career primarily as an intellectual skeptic.

Riesman looks behind the ideas, searching for their origins in Veblen's life, with the result that one finishes the book with a genuine sense of the strange man who is its subject. Riesman concludes that Thorstein Veblen is important not so much for his specific contribution to economic thought as for his stance toward the economy and his fellow economists. For us today, Riesman adds, Veblen's great value inheres in his way of seeing. The new introduction by Mestrovic provides an appreciation of Riesman, no less than Veblen.

David Riesman is the Henry Ford II Professor Emeritus of Social Sciences at Harvard University. He has also taught at the University of Chicago, and Johns Hopkins University. Among his most important books are The Lonely Crowd; Faces in the Crowd; Individualism Reconsidered; and Constraint and Variety in American Education. His collection, Abundance for What?, confirms his place as the foremost sociologist of education in the modern era.

Stjepan G. Mestrovic is a senior social theorist in his own right. He is currently located at Texas A&M University, where he is a professor of sociology.

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