Why does America need another college guide? The answer is in the subtitle to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's fine new entry in this crowded field. This volume fills an important niche and will be greeted warmly by students and parents desperate for reliable information on institutions of higher learning that educate for liberty, including the formation of young souls with the capacity to choose well.
The guide concentrates on what is taught and how it is taught. Readers aren't deluged with reams of mostly meaningless institutional data that can easily be gleaned elsewhere. In deciding which schools to include, the editors looked for course requirements that span the curriculum, as well as serious departmental requirements. They also looked for gifted teachers, including the "eloquent generalist." The fifty schools surveyed range from the famous (Princeton) to the obscure (New Saint Andrews College), to many in between (including my own institution). For the most part, the guide does not cover the usual suspects, because it is interested in places that "build up one's character as well as one's resumé." Schools whose main recommendation is their reputation don't make the cut.
As with many college guides, evidence is anecdotal but probably accurate. The editors have done their own legwork when it comes to each school's basic orientation and curricular structure, but then rely largely on student reviews of departments, professors, and institutional practices. The book is not a series of love letters. The included schools come in for their fair share of lumps when deserved. As a bonus, the guide includes two fine essays that will reward anyone engaged in the search for a serious college: Louise Cowan's "The Necessity of the Classics" and Mark Henrie's "A Student's Guide to the Core Curriculum."
The good news for America, if not American colleges, is that good students are not fooled by much of the nonsense that is passed off as higher education. They know Mickey Mouse courses when they experience them, they recognize when teachers aren't teaching, they can identify social activism masquerading as scholarship, and they can spot an affirmative action hire from a mile away. The schools included here are places where teachers can still unashamedly hold up models of the great and the good that transcend the prejudices of our age.
—Bradley C. S. Watson
Saint Vincent College
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This article appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books