The theme for the fall 2016 issue of Academic Questions is “Instructive Ideas.” In the first section, ten contributors discuss the 1960 classic To Kill a Mockingbird and how Go Set a Watchman alters the characters. Mary Grabar also reviews a spring 2016 performance of To Kill a Mockingbird.
In the following section we get instructive ideas from Sandra Stotsky in “Texting Limits”; Robert Maranto in “Testing Patience”; John Fawell in “Integrated Studies: A few Reservations.” NAS staff David Randall and Rachelle Peterson offer two additional ideas in “The Last Castle: Better Beach Books Update” and “The Art of the Essay Contest.”
Jeff Zorn remembers his formative time at the Boston Latin School and explains why current criticism is unfair in “Boston Latin Besmirched.” In “Castro’s Cats: Lessons in Market Economics from the Workers’ Paradise,” Mark G. Brennan describes his experience supervising a class that visited Cuba and the toll fifty-seven years of ideological brainwashing has taken on the minds of everyday Cubans. Dan Subotnik of Touro Law School writes a review of Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence.
NAS members will receive printed copies of this issue in the mail. (NAS members, click here for instructions on how to get full online access to all AQ articles.)
The featured articles from the fall 2016 AQ are listed below.
This issue also includes open poems and review essays not listed here. Two of this issue’s articles (Jeff Zorn’s “Boston Latin Besmirched” and Mark G. Brennan’s “Castro’s Cats: Lessons in Market Economics from the Workers’ Paradise”) are available for free through www.nas.org.
No Longer Black and White: A Forum on To Kill a Mockingbird (10.1007/s12129-016-9581-9)
Mark Bauerlein, John M. Gist, Mary Grabar, Donald M. Hassler, Michael I. Krauss, Peter Augustine Lawler, Wight Martindale Jr., Colin D. Pearce, Duke Pesta, Peter Wood, and Carol Iannone take a 2016 look at Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Forum contributors discuss Mockingbird’s substance and standing, particularly among American teachers and in light of Lee’s complex, unsettling depiction of Mockingbird’s revered main character, Atticus Finch, in Go Set a Watchman, written before Mockingbird but newly released in 2015.
Show Trial: To Kill a Mockingbird on Stage (10.1007/s12129-016-9580-x)
Mary Grabar, Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization
Mary Grabar reviews a spring 2016 performance of To Kill a Mockingbird, adapted for stage by Christopher Sergel in 1970 and produced by Syracuse Stage under the direction of Tim Bond, recipient of the 2016 Interworks Racial Justice Award. Grabar enjoyed some aspects of the performance but found the production, far from embodying Harper Lee’s “show, don’t tell” authorial intentions, marred by crusading, overacting, and the gratuitous insertion of racially provocative elements intended to convey Bond’s social justice message, as stated in the playbill.
Testing Limits (10.1007/s12129-016-9578-4)
Sandra Stotsky, emerita, University of Arkansas
“Teaching to the Test” is a relatively new term that describes efforts by schools to prepare students for the standardized tests mandated by the federal government in order to secure greater public school accountability. The term seems to have various meanings and connotations that define it as “either bad or good depending on how administrators and teachers approach it.” In the first entry of a special section entitled “Instructive Ideas,” Sandra Stotsky considers the good, the bad, and the considerably ugly in Teaching to the Test practices, and its consequences.
Testing Patience (10.1007/s12129-016-9575-7)
Robert Maranto, University of Arkansas
Standardized testing and preparation for testing consumes considerable time, causes stress among teachers, students, parents, and school administrators, and produces divisive, questionable results. Given these outcomes, why test? In answering this question, Robert Maranto takes an informed parent’s approach, and finds that the use or abuse of standardized testing data rests with the educators responsible for implementing these tests.
Integrated Studies: A Few Reservations (10.1007/s12129-016-9573-9)
John Fawell, Boston University
The Association of American Colleges and Universities wants more interdisciplinary studies in higher education, a charge embraced by general education reform. In his Instructive Ideas entry, John Fawell investigates, and shares his misgivings about, the call for “High Impact” practices that move away from “the older idea” of core curriculum toward a program of “integrative” studies with broad themes and diffuse curricular options that immerse students in “big questions that matter beyond the classroom” but fail to deliver real education in subject matter.
The Last Castle: Better Beach Books Update (10.1007/s12129-016-9577-5)
David Randall, National Association of Scholars
David Randall, NAS director of communications and author of Beach Books 2014–2016: What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class? surveys the findings of the latest report on the books featured in college common reading programs. While “a few survivors” that “represent the last castle of traditional learning” remain, most books chosen in 2015 have been published since 2010 and are typically “work[s] of progressive propaganda conveyed in banal prose to a ninth-grade reader.”
The Art of the Essay Contest (10.1007/s12129-016-9576-6)
Rachelle Peterson, National Association of Scholars
“As diversity replaces merit in college admissions and financial aid supplants academic scholarships,” the essay contest has become an avenue for private organizations “to reward students who still take their academic work seriously.” In her Instructive Ideas essay, NAS director of research projects Rachelle Peterson dissects the aim, scope, and mechanics of today’s essay contest. Her findings also provide a guide on best practices for running an essay contest and offer insider advice to potential student entrants.
Boston Latin Besmirched (10.1007/s12129-016-9579-3)
Jeff Zorn, emeritus, Santa Clara University
Jeff Zorn remembers Boston Latin School as a place that “developed the latent best” in his character and intellect, lifting him “from the streets of Dorchester…to a fulfilling career in higher education.” Now his childhood alma mater stands accused of racism and creating an unsupportive climate for minority students. While sympathetic toward those who speak out against true mistreatment, Zorn examines why these indictments become less convincing whenever students move past racism to claim insensitivity and lack of support.
Castro’s Cats: Lessons in Market Economics from the Workers’ Paradise(10.1007/s12129-016-9570-z)
Mark G. Brennan, New York University Stern School of Business
Using his experiences supervising a class of Wharton MBA students during a 2008 stay in Cuba where they met with business students at the University of Havana, Mark G. Brennan describes fifty-seven years of ideological brainwashing and the broken promises made to the people of Cuba regarding racial equality, universal healthcare, and, in particular, education.
Grade Inflation in Higher Education: Is the End in Sight? (10.1007/s12129-016-9569-5)
Michael J. Carter, California State University, Northridge
Patricia Y. Lara, California State University, Northridge
Grade inflation in American higher education has been a documented concern for over twenty years. Without claiming that grade inflation is no longer an issue, Michael J. Carter and Patricia Y. Lara present summary findings of their study examining contemporary grading trends across a recent five-year span in the University of California and California State University systems that show that changes in grade distributions have begun to plateau. The authors cite and consider a potential, previously undiscussed, correlate of grade inflation: the relationship between reasonable, non-inflated grade point averages and semantic, agreed upon definitions of grade categories.
Honest Talk about Race (10.1007/s12129-016-9582-8)
Dan Subotnik, Touro Law School
In his review essay of Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, by Derald Wing Sue, Dan Subotnik discusses why investigating the roots of racism cannot take place without openly addressing the relevant issues—including conversations about how the black community must accept “its own important and direct role in achieving equality.”