Summer 2015 Academic Questions: "Common Readings, Uncommon Conversations"

National Association of Scholars

In the summer 2015 issue of Academic Questions, contributors engage with topics ranging from Common Core State Standards to criminology. Entitled “Common Reading, Uncommon Conversations,” the new issue focuses on trends in common reading, the varying goals of liberal arts programs, findings from the annual NAS study Beach Books, and summer reading suggestions from avid book lovers. Why don’t schools teach poetry anymore? Is it time to question the premises of affirmative action? What is translingualism? This issue takes on these questions and more.

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 summer 2015 AQ are listed below.

This issue also includes poetry and book reviews not listed here. Three of this issue’s articles (“Experiencing the Common Core” by Carol Iannone, “The Liberal Arts as Conversation” by Jack Kerwick, and “APUSH: The New, New, New History” by Peter Wood) are available for free through

The Issue at a Glance:

Common Reading Programs: Trends, Traps, Tips

Ashley Thorne, National Association of Scholars

In the first entry of this issue’s special section, “Common Readings, Uncommon Conversations,” Ashley Thorne discusses the findings of the 2013–2014 edition of Beach Books: What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class? NAS’s annual study of common reading programs. She closes with recommendations for reading selections and good practices for choosing books and administering a common reading program.

Better Beach Books

David Clemens, Bruce Cole, Elizabeth Corey, Will Fitzhugh, Dana Gioia, Nathan Harden, David Lyle Jeffrey, Alan Charles Kors, Daphne Patai, R.R. Reno, Charles E. Rounds Jr., Diana J. Schaub, and Bruce S. Thornton

NAS’s Beach Books 2013–2014 finds that the books chosen for college common reading programs are frequently trendy and undemanding. We asked a variety of booklovers for their suggestions for better, more substantial summer reads

The Liberal Arts as Conversation

Jack Kerwick, Burlington County College

In his “Common Readings, Uncommon Conversations” entry, Jack Kerwick explores and exposes the flaws in three ideals for education—traditionalism, careerism, and activism—and advocates a fourth, “conversationalism,” taking his “cue” from philosopher Michael Oakeshott.

Why Don’t Schools Teach Poetry?

Robert Maranto, University of Arkansas

Why don’t our schools teach poetry any longer? Many blame the Common Core State Standards, but Robert Maranto traces the decline to what he sees as the actual culprit: The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, a 1918 publication of the National Education Association that embodied early Progressive principles and efforts to refashion education to meet utilitarian goals.

Translingualism: Tongue-Tied in Composition

Jeffrey Zorn, Santa Clara University

In his “Common Readings, Uncommon Conversations” selection, Jeffrey Zorn warns of “translingualism,” a fast-rising movement in composition studies building on “the human right to use the language of one’s nurture.” Zorn describes how translingualism subverts clear writing and Standard English with a cacophony of amalgams of Standard English, non-Standard dialects, and other languages.

Experiencing the Common Core

Carol Iannone, Academic Questions

Debate about the Common Core State Standards rages on, but we don’t hear or read much about how they are applied to actual works taught by real teachers. In the last “Common Readings, Uncommon Conversations” selection, Carol Iannone examines the astonishing and confusing two-volume, ten-pound-plus teacher’s edition of The American Experience, Common Core Edition, for answers.

The Criminologists’ Imagination: C. Wright Mills and the Legacy of Subjectivity 

Mike Adams, University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Criminologists often seem to advocate social determinism. Man is good until society corrupts him: the narrative runs through countless studies in prominent criminology journals, with conclusions often made at the cost of academic standards. Mike Adams traces this influence to the work of C. Wright Mills, in particular The Sociological Imagination, which “has profoundly influenced how criminology research is conducted and interpreted.

Scrutinizing Diversity: Challenging the Premises of Affirmative Action

John T. Bennett

The Supreme Court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger that schools may make “narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” This standard is called “strict scrutiny.” The Grutter majority claimed to apply “strict scrutiny” to affirmative action, but John T. Bennett contends that “the nine supposed educational benefits of student body diversity” Grutter lists are “paltry, nonexistent, or worse.” He offers “an empirically grounded challenge” to each of the nine.

APUSH: The New, New, New History

Peter Wood, Academic Questions

Peter Wood reveals the latest battlefront in the History Wars: the stealthy implementation of new Advanced Placement United States History standards—“a curriculum that artfully aims to erase ideas, arguments, and facts that fail to comport with a narrative of America as a story of endless exploitation”—and considers the damaging consequences for our brightest students as well as the nation.

Keeping the Faith

Russell K. Nieli, Princeton University

In this review essay of A Conflict of Principles: The Battle over Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan, a memoir by Carl Cohen—a UM faculty member for almost sixty years—Russell K. Nieli describes the roots, beliefs, and actions of this “old school liberal Democrat, civil libertarian, and early civil rights crusader [who] retained his dedication to a color-blind constitution when so many like-minded others bailed and betrayed the highest ideals of American constitutional law.

Photo © fpwing / Getty Images

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