Criticism vs. Attack

Watters and Goldrick-Rab’s review of The End of College.

March 26, 2015
That two reviews of Kevin Carey’s The End of College were both published on the same day on IHE was not planned. My review Dear Kevin: 5 Challenges to “The End of College”, and the review by Audrey Watters and Sara Goldrick-Rab Techno Fantasies, arrived without coordination.
What I worry about is that the review by Watters and Goldrick-Rab crossed the divide that separates criticism from attack. 
Watters and Goldrick-Rab write:
“This is a story told by a white man about other white men — indeed, all other voices, with the exception of Daphne Koller's, are mute."
I know both Anant Agarwal of edX and Rob Lue of Harvard, two world-class academics (and super nice guys) who will be surprised to learn that they are “white men”.  
Is Carey’s race really relevant in a review of his book?  
Perhaps this was an unfortunate sentence in Watters’ and Goldrick-Rab’s review. What bothers me more is the overall tone of their review. 
I see no space for conversation, for the finding of common ground, or for listening to views that may differ from their own. It is great to disagree with Carey’s arguments - I disagree with many of them. What I think is unfortunate is to close off the space for dialogue.  
In the case of the The End of College this closing off of the conversation is particularly troublesome, as Carey is engaging in an important critique of our existing higher education system. What I found strange in the Watters and Goldrick-Rab review was no recognition of Carey’s focus on the structural flaws and inconsistencies that characterize much of U.S. higher education. 
If you read The End of College you learn that Carey is very worried about the costs of college, and is concerned about the general quality of student learning on most campuses. Carey spends much of the book trying to understand the roots of the hybird university system, and how we arrived at a situation where huge numbers of students are excluded from receiving a postsecondary education.  Carey writes that, 
.. As college becomes more expensive, the have-nots are increasingly students from low-income backgrounds. Colleges are taking existing inequality and making it worse”.  (page 85)
I’d be surprised if Watters and Goldrick-Rab don’t share this concern.
It seems completely fair game to disagree with either Carey’s proposed solutions to the big challenges in higher education, or to his view of how the future will play out. What seems less constructive is to question Carey’s motives for analyzing the system in the first place. Or to claim that he is so incurious about the research on education and learning that his conclusions are baseless.
I think that we need to find a better way in our IHE community to listen to views in which we disagree. To not resort to attacks when we think that an argument is incorrect. To be willing to admit that we also have blind spots, and that we can learn from listening to those who have different views and experiences from our own. To avoid attacking the motives of those who make arguments that do not fit into our own worldview.  
I wish that Watters and Goldrick-Rab had chosen to engage constructively with The End of College, as I think that their critque of the book would make for an important contribution to our ongoing discussion of the future of higher ed.


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