Why Teach? In Defense of a Real Education

Mark Edmundson. Bloomsbury, $22 (240p) ISBN 978-1-62040-107-1
As he headed to college, Edmundson (Why Read?) told his father that he might pursue a prelaw track. Though he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a lawyer, he figured that lawyers made decent money. His father, he says, “detonated”: “He told me that I was going to college only once, and that while I was there I had better study what I wanted,” which was literature. In this collection of 16 essays, some of which have appeared in Harper’s and the New York Times, University of Virginia English professor Edmundson explores how higher education has devolved into a place where “preprofessionalism is the order of the day”; where the study of literature “has become arid and abstract”; and where universities behave like corporations, teachers like service providers, and students like customers. He offers, at turns, a meditation, a jeremiad, some musings, and some possible solutions. The questions (what to teach? what to study?) find answers in the values Edmundson discovers in becoming an English major: “Love for language, hunger for life, openness and a quest for truth or truths.” Addressing teachers, students, and parents, Edmundson defends the intellectual and spiritual value, even the usefulness, of the “scholarly enclave” and “seeking knowledge so as to make the lives of other human beings better.” (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/17/2013
Release date: 08/20/2013
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