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McCray, Suzanne. (Ed.). (2005). Beyond Winning: National Scholarship Competitions and the Student Experience. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press.

Pp. Xviii + 132
$14.95   ISBN 1-55728-788-0

Reviewed by Pat Lauderdale
Arizona State University

March 17, 2006

Beyond Winning: National Scholarship Competitions and the Student Experience is a small book with big claims about the merits of competition, at least, for students. It includes information on scholarships such as (The) Rhodes, Fulbright, Marshall, Gates, Cambridge, Truman and Udall. In order for you to understand some of my reactions below, I should confess that part of my interest in the book reflects my long struggle to gain scholarships as a student from my initial beginning at Cameron State Agricultural Junior College in Oklahoma to my finish with a Ph.D. from Stanford University in California. Another part stems from my on-going attempts to assist other students.

In the introduction by editor, Suzanne McCray, the plethora of hyperboles made me skeptical of most of the merits of competition. Since it is crucial to be skeptical not cynical, I continued to read the contributions. And, in fact, by the time I reached the chapter by McCray, it was obvious that most of the authors balanced the good news with the bad about competition. The ironic, thoughtful chapter by McCray also was not only balanced but intriguing as she critiqued some of the ethical issues in advising students. It is an interesting read, especially by those of us who find ethics still largely controlled by people who simply write about ethics rather than conduct research on the different measures and meanings of the concept. Her example of a university administrator’s attempt to put “dress for success” above creativity and substance is poignant, especially for people who currently are experiencing the corporatisation of their university. Or, as Eric Margolis might suggest, current administrative ideas often are thinly disguised attempts to enhance the administrator’s status and authority with old techniques of discipline and new forms of surveillance.

The little book is an outcome of the 2003 National Association of Fellowship Advisors (NAFA) conference in 2003. Beyond the conundrum associated with ethics, there are interesting contributions that help delimit the differences among helpers, advisors, and gate-keepers. Moreover, there are important points in the ironic, and sometimes contradictory, retelling of the stories behind the financing of the scholarships such as the life and times of Rhodes scholarship founder Cecil Rhodes. Consider the contrast between his diamond company De Beers and the recent musical critique aimed at young people by Kayne West in his song about the horrors of producing diamonds in his “diamonds are forever.” While this book is not aimed at students, it would be a timely one for them. It also contains useful insights on the background of many prestigious scholarships and data on thirty nationally competitive scholarships. The book should become a essential resources for scholarship advisors, sponsors, and critically informed and conscientious administrators.

Now, let me mention some other points. First, these comments, of course, reflect my work in the study of injustice, in particular, and education, in general. Start with the chapter by McCray. Then, compare the stories of Cecil Rhodes by John Rowett who he views as “that contradictory, deeply flawed, entrepreneurial genius” with the similar picture painted by Elloit Gerson . Rowett’s story about the Mandela Rhodes foundation and the bull market of the 1990s also is enlightening. Gerson’s account of the decision of Parliament to allow women to compete in 1976 and the opening to “black” Rhodes competitors is relevant at many levels. Consider both accounts in light of the change of the formerly named Rhodesia into Zambia and Zimbabwe. Those narratives provide a useful background into a deep analysis of competition and the role of racism, sexism, and political economy.

Second, if you want details on specific scholarships then employ the index and note the changes in the competitions. Some of the changes are embedded in interesting stories such as the ones on the Marshall scholarships by Jonathan Taylor and the pointed instrumental steps for a Truman “winner” in the piece by Louis Blair. Note also the taxonomy presented in Table 1 for an overview of approximately 30 competitive scholarships.

Third, for an innovative account of the advantages of comparative study and the importance of creativity and flexibility, read the chapter on “Victory’s Incognito Arrival” by Robert Cochran. The old lesson about the importance of persistence and courage also takes on a new face. The story of “the woman who not be cowed” might be considered a miracle to many readers. It is his story about being in Romania in 1985 and an “everyday“ woman who broke national law to uphold an unwritten international law about kindness, freedom, and love. If not a miracle then, at least, it is an exceptional point about the diverse strength of the human spirit.

Fourth, the last few chapters, in particular, are relevant to faculty members and scholarship advisors and sponsors. The chapter on “Strengthening Nationally Competitive Scholarships” contains much useful advice, especially for student advisors and scholarship panelists aka helpers or gate-keepers, that is, their roles depending on their actions. The authors remind us that some scholarship competitions lead to winners that tend to reproduce the characteristics of gate-keepers and dominant groups. We surely know that real diversity is a deep and complex issue. Instrumental rationality is currently on the rise with many people unaware of its deadly attack on diversity. For those who are aware, the material and symbolic rewards of organizational life continue to keep them entrenched in hypocrisy, which is something common to life in privileged settings, but not something that should be denied, ignored, or minimized. The contribution by Don Andrew reveals many of the potholes on the road to winning. It also contains more broadly defined ideas on the benefits of education and competitive scholarships. Andrew’s sensitivity to the dialectical processes is impressive and reminds us to remember the best interests of the students in the organizational rush to win.

Finally, while some of the earlier references to miracles through hard work turn out to be less than miracles, this book is timely and important to understanding the overt and covert processes relevant to winning an international scholarship. It also provides useful ideas for converting techniques of discipline, new forms of surveillance, and old good old boys and girls networks into more open and fair contests. In many ways, conversion or transformation that follows those ideas will be a very welcomed miracle.

About the Reviewer

Pat Lauderdale, Stanford PhD in sociology and comparative law, is a recipient of numerous national and international awards, and works in the School of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University.

Copyright is retained by the first or sole author, who grants right of first publication to the Education Review.

Editors: Gene V Glass, Kate Corby, Gustavo Fischman

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