A note on Kim’s review of Watters & Goldrick-Rab’s review of Carey’s The End Of College

I have not yet read Kevin Carey’s The End Of College (henceforth TEOC).

But I’ve read some of it, and an awful lot about it though, all in a short time. I’ve read a case study in the New York Times which is taken directly from the book, a profile of status-seeking George Washington University  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/education/edlife/how-to-raise-a-universitys-profile-pricing-and-packaging.html.

I’ve read a précis of sorts, laying out the book’s major themes, which is also found in the pages of the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/upshot/true-reform-in-higher-education-when-online-degrees-are-seen-as-official.html?abt=0002&abg=1.

Of all the great written work about the book so far, I encourage everyone to read chronologically;

1) John Warner’s review of the book’s take on economic inequality and how that may or may not be solved by TEOC is great and encapsulates my initial serious concerns far better than I could myself. Read it here:  https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/can-we-end-end-college-already

2) Then came a devastating critique by Watters and Goldric-Rab, called Techno Fantasies, which also touches on the false promise of TEOC solving the economic inequalities of college but which is mainly focused on the highly-(cor)related issues of race and privilege and which takes an evidence-focused look at the effectiveness of MOOCs. If one is in the trenches every day reading higher ed news and literature as many college instructors are, these social justice-oriented and pedagogical critiques are familiar and must be more widely known. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2015/03/26/essay-challenging-kevin-careys-new-book-higher-education

3) Joshua Kim’s review came out the same day as the above; it is here: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology-and-learning/dear-kevin-5-challenges-“-end-college”. I don’t like the salutation but otherwise find Kim’s review relatively balanced. Certainly not as breathless as Carey’s book appears to be.

4) The problem that’s burning up the internet right now is Kim’s choices in responding to the Watters and Goldric-Rab critique – which he titled Criticism vs. Attack, found https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology-and-learning/criticism-vs-attack. Most of this response is all about tone policing. I believe that Kim’s position comes from institutional sexism plain and simple. Two must-read pieces on this are by David Perry here: http://www.thismess.net/2015/03/open-letter-to-joshua-kim-own-up.html and here: http://www.thismess.net/2015/03/three-premises-language-and-power.html

In fact, from the title to the opening salvo paragraphs, Kim’s address to Watters and Goldrick-Rab is deeply tone policing. He makes serious misstep which others are not really addressing. He says that they don’t seriously engage with Carey’s concerns about the present state of “college.” Let me quote Kim here:

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 hybrid 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.
So I went back to the Watters and Goldrick-Rab piece to see if they addressed Carey’s accounting of the raft of higher ed problems as espoused in TEOC. Of course they engaged with the problem! They state quite clearly:
Carey’s book comes at a time of rising college costs, swelling student debt and cuts to university courses, faculty and majors. From students to parents to taxpayers, everyone is alarmed about higher education’s most pressing challenges. As an education technology writer and scholar of higher education policy, we are, too.
Later in the piece:
One of Carey’s strongest objections is to the way in which higher education confers enormous benefits on the privileged and powerful (an issue that we agree is a major problem and have each written about time and again).
And still later, describing the role of education experts:
And the story that they tell is quite comforting for many who look at the rising cost of college and the fragile economy and hope that their children will be able to follow the right path toward a more secure future. 
How could Kim have failed to see the plain agreement that Watters and Goldbrick-Rab have with some if not all of the negative preconditions for Carey’s futuristic arguments for disruption? Pretty great example of confirmation bias, to this cognitive psychologist’s eyes.
As for the sexism, I leave that to others. I think David Perry nails that pretty well.

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