Book Review – Academically Adrift by Arum and Roksa

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6 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    This review was predictable but pertinent up until the last paragraph. Then it goes off the rails, celebrating the open, democratic, emancipatory classroom, as if that classroom can be divorced from a field of power, the bastard love child of Paulo Freire and “Dangerous Minds”.

    The isolated classroom will never be an emancipatory space of democracy where students question each other and question what they are learning to try to situate in in relation to their world as long as that world is oppressive and the university (an institution not reducible to a classroom writ large) reproduces that oppression. One may get a classroom where students perform an emancipated consciousness to impress the sociology prof who desperately wants to believe that s/he is engaged in a “pedagogy of the oppressed”. (A pedagogy of the easily impressed, more like it.) Perhaps, in some rare instances, the students will come to share the professor’s fantasy. But the structures of oppression will reassert themselves in the (not-so-very) long run, and that emancipatory class will be long forgotten.

    If, on the other hand, one wants to equip students for the increasingly desperate struggles ahead, one would do well to heed Arum and Roksa’s work on environmental effects (slighted by this review). High expectations, substantial reading and writing, elevated time on task may not be sufficient for kind of “critical thinking” we want, but they are surely necessary. Unless, of course, we’re satisfied to send our students out as “conscienticized” sheep among wolves.

  2. Margaret says:

    Hi Michael!
    Thanks for reading and for your comments. What I am arguing for is certainly not an “isolated classroom” but the classroom as a space where students there is ongoing consideration of how course content AND pedagogical practices facilitating interaction with that course content allow students to develop connections between their own lives and classroom experiences.
    You’re right – a “bastard love child of Freire and Dangerous Minds” sounds pretty awful. I will surely have to work not to give this impression in the future. But to address your comment about sociology professors believing themselves to be engaged in a pedagogy of the oppressed, I think you may be limiting the very relevant questions Freire poses in his work to the particular group of people that Freire himself wrote about. I don’t work with adult literacy students in Brazil (though I did work with adult literacy students here in the US) — and I am very well aware that the college classroom tends to be quite a privileged space, one that certainly does not equate to the situation of the learners whom Freire described as oppressed. To engage with and appreciate the questions that a thinker/writer/scholar poses, and to put those questions in conversation my your own ideas and observations is certainly not to claim that my ideas stem from a situation equivalent to Freire’s. Again, I’ll have to work to make that more clear in the future. Thanks, Michael!

  3. Drick Boyd says:


    I had not heard of Academically Adrift until this past weekend at Lilly, and so went to look for reviews and lo and behold, yours was the first one I found! I find it sad that in this day and age with all that is known about the brain that trained sociologists would reduce intelligence to a score on a test. Despite giving lip service to Freire’s critique of banking education, education at that highest levels seems to be moving in that direction. Thanks for raising good questions

  4. Patty says:

    I find it hard to believe that trained sociologists expect all data collection to be contextual- perhaps one is unaware of the difficulties involved with collecting such a large body of information without having some limitations. We get what information we can get and glean from it what we can by piecing together what we have from other analyses. This is science after all…not philosophy.

    Arum and Roksa provide little contextualization of their findings…something I find mildly frustrating. However, they also provide a great deal of raw information that can be used to extend a wide range of theoretical discussion as well as additional work.

    The study was about higher education- not education as a whole. It is therefore not their responsibility to evaluate the k-12 system- and I’m glad they didn’t. The only pedagogical “truth” that they challenged was Coleman and (let’s face it) that is being done everywhere in the sociology of education. There is nothing really new here- except a sea of extremely valuable data that provides a launching pad for a lot of future research.

    I applaud Arum and Roksa for a job well done.

  1. 2nd March 2011

    […] Here’s what some others have been saying about the book: Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times.  For a critique see the review in Sociology Lens. […]

  2. 17th July 2011

    […] Here’s what some others have been saying about the book: Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times.  For a critique see the review in Sociology Lens. […]

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