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Un)Rankings and Degrees

(Un)Rankings and Degrees

Degrees of Choice: Social Class, Race and Gender in Higher Education
By Diane Reay, Miriam E. David and Stephen Ball
Trentham Books distributed in the U.S. by Stylus Publishing, 2005
192 pp., $29.95 paper, ISBN: 1-85856-330-5 Degrees of Choice provides an account of the overlapping effects of social class, ethnicity and gender in the process of choosing which university to attend. The shift from an elite to a mass education system has been accompanied by much political rhetoric about widening access, achievement-for-all and meritocratic equalization.

This book paints a full and different picture, drawing on qualitative and quantitative data to show how the expansion of higher education has also deepened social stratification, generating new and different inequalities. While gender inequalities have largely been defeated, those of social class remain and are now reinforced by racial inequalities in access. Employing perspectives from the sociology of education and particularly Pierre-Felix Bourdieu’s work on distinction and judgment, the book links school (institutional habitus) and family (class habitus) with individual choice-making in a socially informed dynamic.

The contradictions and tensions arising from attempts to expand student numbers rapidly are vividly brought alive through the narratives of prospective applicants to higher education. Students are seen to confront vastly different degrees of choice that are powerfully shaped by their social class and race.

Dr. Diane Reay is professor of education at London Metropolitan University. Dr. Miriam E. David is professor of policy studies in the department of education at Keele University and author of Personal and Political. Dr. Stephen Ball is Karl Mannheim Professor at the London Institute of Education.

Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba After Slavery
By Rebecca J. Scott
Harvard University Press, 2005
392 pp., $29.95 cloth, ISBN: 0-67401932-6 As Louisiana and Cuba emerged from slavery in the late 19th century, each faced the question of what rights former slaves could claim. Degrees of Freedom compares and contrasts these two societies in which slavery was overthrown, and citizenship was redefined through social and political upheaval. Both Louisiana and Cuba were rich in sugar plantations that depended on an enslaved labor force. After abolition, on both sides of the Gulf of Mexico, ordinary people — cane cutters and cigar workers, laundresses and labor organizers — forged alliances to protect and expand the freedoms they had won. But by the beginning of the 20th century, Louisiana and Cuba had diverged sharply in the meanings attributed to race and color in public life, and in the boundaries placed on citizenship.

Louisiana had taken the path of disenfranchisement and state-mandated racial segregation; Cuba had enacted universal manhood suffrage and had seen the emergence of a transracial conception of the nation. What might explain these differences?

Moving through the cane fields, small farms and cities of Louisiana and Cuba, Scott observes the people, places, legislation and leadership that shaped how these societies adjusted to the abolition of slavery. The two distinctive worlds also come together, as Cuban exiles take refuge in New Orleans in the 1880s, and Black soldiers from Louisiana garrison small towns in eastern Cuba during the 1899 U.S. military occupation. Scott brings to life the historical drama of race and citizenship in post-emancipation societies.

Dr. Rebecca Scott is Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Law at the University of Michigan.

College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy
Edited by Lloyd Thacker
Harvard University Press, 2005
224 pp., $16.95 paper, ISBN: 0-674-01977-6 Stressed and sleepless, today’s high school students race from school to activities in their most competitive game of all: admission to a top-ranked, prestigious university. But is relying on magazine rankings and a vague sense of “prestige” really the best way to choose a college? Is hiring test prep teachers and consultants really the best way to shape your own education?

College Unranked, edited by a veteran admissions counselor, reminds readers that college choice and admission are a matter of fit, not of winning a prize, and that many colleges are “good” in different ways. They call for bold changes in admissions policies and application strategies, to help both colleges and applicants rediscover what college is really for. It’s not just a ticket to financial success, but a once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore new worlds of knowledge.

Lloyd Thacker is executive director of The Education Conservancy.

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