Every person in America who is planning to go to college,
has children in college, or is concerned about one of the biggest hidden
problems facing our country today should read this book.
I feel that education lies at the root of many of our society's
other problems. In America today, with Bush's uncharacteristically-correct
push to reform primary and secondary education, college issues are often
overlooked. The unstated feeling is that sure, a lot of kids don't get
enough opportunities in education, but the ones that manage to get to
college are doing fine. Once they get there, no matter what school it
is, a quality education is assured.
Well, that's fantastically wrong. Sperber outlines
the major reasons why; vast and varied, they are all interrelated. The
title is an allusion to the phrase "bread and circus," referring
to the practices of the senators of the Roman Empire, who invented the
gladiatorial games, giving out entertainment and free bread merely as
a ruse to distract the public from their political manipulations. It
worked perfectly. Sperber argues that American colleges, universities,
and major corporations are running a similar act today, some consciously,
others not. The main thrust of his arguments is that the beer and party
scenes on campuses, closely integrated with big-time college sports,
are ravaging the quality of American undergraduate education, and worse,
none of the students care.
I've noticed this for years, though in a far less cohesive
and articulate way than Sperber puts forth. What surprised me most about
this book is his evenhandedness. He really tackles many seemingly incidental
problems and relates them to a whole system, a system where no one in
particular is to blame, meaning the responsibility for change lies with
everyone. Some issues explored in detail include betting on college sports,
fraternity hazing, cheating, lack of good undergraduate teachers due
to their emphasis on graduate studies, lack of funding, dishonesty in
the NCAA, student apathy, and the manipulations of the huge alcohol conglomerations,
who actively throw more lighter fluid onto this bonfire in order to keep
their primary source of revenues. Sperber does an incredible job of exposing
the hypocrisy lying under the surface of each of these issues, and logically
opposes the students' often mind-boggingly absurd Orwellian doublethink.
The book's kind of a downer, but a necessary one. It's
an eye-opener, and essential reading for anyone concerned about the future
of America. After all, if tomorrow's leaders are carrying meaningless
diplomas and have hardly a brain cell left between them, how are they
going to tackle the other issues facing us in the twenty-first century?