Culture > Books

Beltway Books: Think tanks, pundits

Books | Teacher pay, foreign policy, and moonlighting columnists

Issue: "Louisiana's Buy-You-Election," May 17, 1997

American education is in crisis, but the cry from the educational establishment is always the same: &quotmore money." Never mind that the vast majority of studies have found no relationship between educational spending and results. Now Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality, published by the nonprofit W.E. Upjohn Institute, debunks the argument that higher teacher salaries will restore school quality. In fact, the authors report, &quothigher teacher salaries have had little if any discernible impact on the quality of newly recruited teachers." This conclusion will, of course, not surprise anyone who sends his child to a religious school. Dale Ballou and Michael Podgursky go on to call for market-oriented reforms based on the experience of private schools. (Based on the quality of their product, religious school teachers may well deserve to make more than they do.) Despite the end of the Cold War, the world remains a turbulent place, though not as dangerous to the United States. Historian and diplomat George Kennan assesses this world in At Century's End. Mr. Kennan has always been a bit of a maverick, providing the intellectual framework for the containment of Communism and then criticizing the hardline policies that resulted. But his latest book is gracefully written and full of insights that deserve attention on both sides of the aisle in Washington. China may pose the most serious challenge to the United States in coming decades. Some officials are ready to treat Beijing as an enemy; a more measured analysis comes from two China specialists in The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress. Although they advocate firmness when necessary, Andrew Nathan and Robert Ross acknowledge China's perspective: &quotWhere Americans see a potentially beneficent new world order, China sees danger. While the United States is separated from Asia and Europe by oceans and shares borders with two much weaker countries, which are allies, China sits at the center of the Asian continent, crowded on all sides by powerful rivals and potential foes." Unusual books come from two of Washington's pundits. Conservative Joseph Sobran, whose elegant style has not insulated him from controversy, has written Alias Shakespeare, which argues that the plays and poetry attributed to William Shakespeare were actually written by the Earl of Oxford. Now if Mr. Sobran could only determine whether Vince Foster's suicide note was genuine! From liberal Carl Rowan comes a reissue of South of Freedom. Although Mr. Rowan's current opinions are tiresome (he never meets a spending program that he doesn't like), this book recounts his travels decades ago through the segregated South, providing a powerful reminder of the horrors of state-sanctioned discrimination. And, though he would undoubtedly disagree, South of Freedom also offers a case against the government-enforced racial spoils system that has since grown up allegedly for the benefit of minorities.

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John W. Alexander
John W. Alexander

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