Book Review: The New School, by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

Most people who know Glenn Reynolds know him as Instapundit, a blogger known more for his pithy asides about articles he links to, not necessarily his own opinions on the topics he covers. Some may even know him for his wife, Dr. Helen Smith. But in spite of the fact that Mr. Reynolds must spend 80% of his day just reading other people’s blogs and news sites, he has also put together the research for a book, “The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education From Itself” (oddly enough, the guy known for blog posts consisting of a linked “Heh” writes terribly long titles).

In this book Reynolds takes on our current education system. He begins with some history, tracing the sources of the system we currently have back to its roots. Then he takes a serious look at what is going wrong with our university system today. It’s not a pleasant view. College costs are soaring, while the value of college degrees are decreasing. More and more graduates can’t find work. Administrative costs are rising rapidly, while colleges are turning more and more to part-time adjuncts to teach the students.

Reynolds declares our current situation a “Higher Education Bubble”, and shows that it can’t last. Indeed, there are already signs that it may be about to burst.

What’s more, K-12 education doesn’t look much better. Reynolds looks at a variety of causes for why our primary education system is feeding poor students into the secondary education cash machine. The reasons are not what you might think, and Reynolds’ observations are not going to make him many friends in the educational establishment. Yet Reynolds, a Law professor at the University of Tennessee, is a part of that “establishment”, and has as much to lose as anyone when the bubble bursts.

The book also digs into what other options there may be for either reforming an ailing educational system or replacing it with something better. There is hope out there, but the next ten years are going to be difficult, even a little frightening, as we are forced to deal with wholesale change. Just like the current workforce had to adjust to the demise of the “one-company career”, we may be forced to accept the loss of the “high-school, college, and a job” paradigm before long.

The New School is a reasonably short read. He doesn’t belabor his points and tries to keep the subject matter interesting while sufficiently bolstering his arguments. In the end he’s guessing as much as anyone about what is going to happen, and he admits it. But he has been paying closer attention than most of us, so I’m willing to bet his guesses are better than most. In any case, the real message is clear, and it’s not a happy one: change is coming. If something is too good to last, it won’t.

This book is worth reading, even if it’s not a feel-good read. Being caught off guard will be even less pretty.