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Jewish World Review Oct. 2, 1998 / 12 Tishrei, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell A much-needed guide

THIS IS NOT ONLY BACK-TO-SCHOOL time for millions of youngsters across the country, it is also the time when high school seniors and their parents need to start selecting colleges to apply to. Application deadlines are just a few months away -- November 30th at Berkeley and January 1st at Harvard -- so arrangements have to be made well before then to take nationally standardized tests, in order to have the results reach the admissions offices in time.

The choice of a college can have lifelong consequences -- and you can't rely on big names as a guide. Big names usually come from faculty research, not the teaching of undergraduates.

Fortunately, a recently published book titled Choosing the Right College provides a far better analysis of individual colleges than most of the standard guide books. It not only covers the academic atmosphere of these colleges, but also the social atmosphere, including whether political correctness has run amuck.

Many of our big-name colleges and universities have become indoctrination centers for the counter-culture, with co-ed showers and prescribed groupthink on everything from ethnicity to homosexuality. Students who want to think for themselves can get into very big trouble over very small things.

Before shelling out the kind of money it takes to go to college these days, parents need to be sure of what they are paying for -- and what their children are getting into. Choosing the Right College not only warns about places where the inmates have taken over the asylum, it also tells you about colleges that are still old-fashioned enough to have a real curriculum and a sense of decency, as well as professors whose job it is to teach.

It also tells you about places that don't cost an arm and a leg, but give you more bang for the buck.

This book presents a rounded picture -- warts and all -- of the pluses and minuses of 100 colleges, rather than trying to reduce everything to some numerical ranking. While it calls many of the cultural courses at Stanford "little more than anti-Western hand-wringing," it also points out that two Stanford professors with Nobel Prizes in physics also won teaching awards.

Harvard's pluses and minuses are likewise discussed candidly. While Harvard "still retains many of the best-known scholars and thinkers in the country," there are also "real problems at Harvard" -- "the core curriculum is large and undefined; grade inflation has become outrageous; and political correctness is to many there a higher calling than intellectual integrity."

This book is not confined to colleges that are household names. It also covers smaller institutions with their own distinctive features.

Perhaps the most distinctive of all is Hillsdale College in Michigan. An avowedly conservative institution, it nevertheless invites such speakers as Jesse Jackson and Patricia Schroeder, so that its students do not hear only the conservative stalwarts like William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan, who have also spoken there. Very few liberal institutions invite conservative speakers.

Hillsdale not only has a curriculum, it is a very traditional curriculum. More than a fifth of its students are majoring in classics, and so many tried to enroll in its courses in Latin that some had to be turned away.

There are other colleges that are marching to their own drummers, rather than in the counter-culture lockstep -- Claremont-McKenna College in California, Rhodes College in Tennessee, Birmingham-Southern in Alabama and the University of Dallas, for example. All these are covered in "Choosing the Right College."

I wish they had also covered Harvey Mudd College, a world-class engineering school in California, as well as Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and Whitman College in Washington state. But these are all judgment calls and no two judgments are likely to be the same.

As it is, "Choosing the Right College" is head-and-shoulders above any other college guide. Not only is it very helpful when making a choice among colleges, it will also be useful for knowing some of the outstanding teachers to look for after arriving on the college of your choice. It names names, like Walter Williams at George Mason University, Price Zimmerman at Davidson College and Dwight Lee at Georgia Tech, among many others.

In keeping with these computer-oriented times, Choosing The Right College lists each college's Internet web site, from which you can get literature immediately, without waiting for the mails.

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7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
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7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
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3/6/98: Vindication
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2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.