Lately Gallup poll found that public confidence in higher education was at its lowest point in survey history, at 36%, down nearly 20 percentage points from eight years ago.
There are many reasons behind this decline. What’s going on on college campuses has gone from being part of a culture war where people are debating and trying to persuade the wider public, to an overt political war, as seen in recent partisan rulings or takeovers affecting higher education in the Supreme Court. Higher education in Florida by Governor Ron DeSantis.
There is also the impact of the cost of college and growing concern that a degree is not worth the cost. The decline in trust in higher education is mirrored by a similar decline in the medical system, schools, banks, organized religion, courts, media and other institutions.
In general, there is a lot of discontent with these large official institutions that are supposed to serve us. But when you zoom in, there seems to be a great deal of satisfaction, even love, for the people who work in these institutions – our doctors, our teachers, our priests/rabbis/ministers, even our bankers.
As someone who has spent most of her adult life in or near higher education, I am glad when there is a book that simultaneously manages to realize some of the absurdity of what is going on in these very important institutions, and at the same time acknowledges that. they’re basically made up of individuals – flawed, funny individuals doing their best.
All this is a great summary to express my appreciation for “The English Experience”, the third novel of Julie Schumacher’s Payne University Trilogy after the previously published “Dear Committee Members” and “The Shakespeare Requirement”.
Central to all three novels is Professor Jason Fitger, a beleaguered professor of humanities at under-resourced Payne University, often tasked with guiding a diverse group of misfit and disgruntled — students, administrators, and faculty — to some kind of valuable experience. learning.
The hallmark of these books is Fitger’s numerous failures to achieve these goals, which often escalate into absurdity, a challenging form that Schumacher employs with great skill. When a character is utterly pathetic, it’s hard to keep caring about them, but throughout the three books Schumacher manages to invest in us seeing these people succeed.
Professor Fitger’s challenge this time is to oversee Payne University’s study abroad program in the UK. Fitger accurately predicts the disaster, but of course the details are not something he or we can see. While Fitger is at the heart of the book, Schumacher’s use of actual student assignments that he submitted to Fitger as part of the course requirements enriches the texture of the story.
As someone who has graded thousands of student papers myself, I can testify that Schumacher’s dedication to a confusing, surprising, and often wonderful array of student perspectives is impressive. Even though student work is often played for laughs, I usually get a warm feeling when reading the thoughts of these weirdos.
Perhaps the most surprising and delightful thing about the book is this sense of warmth. In fact, each book in the trilogy has gotten progressively warmer in its handling of its characters, even if they’ve gotten rather boring. As times get tougher for higher education in general, Schumacher’s sympathy for individuals within the institution seems to have increased.
In conclusion, for me, Schumacher’s trilogy stands alongside David Lodge’s famous Campus Trilogy of the 70s and 80s as the go-to resource for what it really feels like to enter one’s higher education.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read, based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Ron Carlson Writes a Story: Tips from a Master” by Ron Carlson
2. “Bird Bird” by Anne Lamott
3. “The Great Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” By Elizabeth Gilbert
4. “Chapter. speculation” by Jenny Offill
5. “Bad Avocado” By Elaine Dundy
— Mina R., Queens, New York
Sometimes Biblioracle frequencies send me a book and I’m not sure why but this feels right. This is one of those times, “The Best of Everything” by Rona Jaffe.
1. “Dhalgren” by Samuel R. Delany
2. “Leviathan Falls” by James S.A. Corey
3. “Shaver Tears” by S.A. Cosby
4. “Ripley’s Game” By Patricia Highsmith
5. “Scammers” by Jim Thompson
— James P., Chicago
A bit of science fiction and a bit of crime thriller. Why not a book that combines these elements? “The 22 Murders of Madison May” by Max Barry.
1. “Rules of Courtesy” by Love Towles
2. “Where the Crawdads Sing” By Delia Owens
3. “Water Treaty” by Abraham Verghese
4. “Love in the Time of Cholera” By Gabriel Garcia Marquez
5. “The Painted Bird” By Jerzy Kosinski
— Anna W., East Lansing, Michigan
An interesting list that makes me think I could go in a few different directions. How about “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”, a classic by Carson McCullers that still holds a lot of validity today?
Get a reading from the biblioracle
Submit a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown firstname.lastname@example.org