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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Reading Can Change Your Life
Mark Edmundson's chronicle
of a year in the life of Medford High is, first and foremost, a
compulsively good read, by turns moving and hilarious, unsentimental yet ultimately uplifting. Teacher is bracing from first page to last. Yet Edmundson manages not only to delight but also--deftly, brilliantly--to instruct. Teacher taught me more about education--its...
Published on August 21, 2002 by Michael Pollan

versus
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Teacher: The One Who Made The Difference
For my English class I read "Teacher : The One Who Made the Difference" by Mark Edmundson. I felt that this book was kind of misleading. It was supposed to be about a teacher that made an effect on his student, Mark Edmundson. The author didn't talk much about Frank Lears, the teacher, and only really focused on Edmundson's high school experience. He played football...
Published on December 8, 2004 by Samantha Smith


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Reading Can Change Your Life, August 21, 2002
By 
Mark Edmundson's chronicle
of a year in the life of Medford High is, first and foremost, a
compulsively good read, by turns moving and hilarious, unsentimental yet ultimately uplifting. Teacher is bracing from first page to last. Yet Edmundson manages not only to delight but also--deftly, brilliantly--to instruct. Teacher taught me more about education--its purposes, its practices, its rewards--that anything I've ever read on the subject. What
makes a great teacher? What are books for? How can reading change your life? By the end of this wonderful book, you know.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is not defined by who you were in high school, August 7, 2002
By 
Beth Fuller (Medford, MA United States) - See all my reviews
This book is about Mark Edmundson's senior year at Medford High School, and the teacher who broke that year - and that life - apart. The personalities of fellow students, teachers, administrators, coaches - names changed to protect the innocent! - will be recognizeable to anyone who might have passed through senior year, circa 1970, anywhere, though the particular teacher was one we weren't all as fortunate to have had. This book chronicles that slow realizing when a student begins to understand that you can become your own teacher and you can reach beyond the expectations others may have determined for you. 'Teacher' would make an excellent all-school read, a even better all-faculty read. I loved it, and have passed it along to many friends.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Student" is more apt title, December 5, 2002
By A Customer
"Student" is a more apt title for this book, and that is not meant to be a criticism. The teacher, Franklin Lears (probably not his real name), is in the background, and the student, Edmundson, is in the foreground. Thus, the book mirrors what Lears did some 30 odd years ago: Lears is the catalyst, the cajoler (a reticient one), the 'teacher' who holds up a mirror and asks you to critically examine yourself and your beliefs. Edmundson submitted (and submits) himself to this examination; and, without explicitly saying so, Edmundson invites the reader to do the same (he does this, I think, by writing as sincerely, honestly, and frankly as he possibly can about his own self-examination).

This book is about a lot of things, including Edmundson and Lears. It is biography/memoir, philosophy, popular culture(Edmundson beautifully interprets Johnny Carson, the Beatles, Elvis, and others), history, pedagogy. It's also filled with great writing; Edmundson is an elegant prose stylist.
Unfortunately, book stores don't know what to do with this book (at least not yet). At my local "Bricks & Mortar" their only copy was tucked away in the education section. That's a pity because the book deserves a wider audience. Maybe word of mouth will spread the message. (Perhaps Edmundson has an academic's disdain for self-promotion; to my knowledge, he hasn't popped up in the usual places for authors with new books.) I would especially recommend this book to teenagers. I would do so, however, in the Lears' "You might like this" manner. There's no faster way to make a teenager hate a book than require them to read it. (Are you listening, Teacher?)
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gifted Student Remembers the Gift, November 4, 2002
If you are lucky, you had a teacher back in high school you can remember, one who demonstrated that learning could be more than memorization and scoring high on tests, one whose lessons you remembered long after your education was officially over because the lessons were about learning itself. Mark Edmundson is a professor of English at the University of Virginia, a contributing editor to _Harper's_, and has a bunch of other intellectual chops. It might have turned out differently for him if it weren't for one teacher; he had all the makings of a punk, a television addict, and a sports fan who longed for his days of high school football glory. That he turned out differently he credits to one teacher, and in _Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference_ (Random House), he introduces us to him. He also introduces us to a bunch of minor teachers and role models (not necessarily good ones), many goofy classmates, and, in a book full of openness and acceptance, his own unattractive adolescent self.
For Edmundson says, "When I encountered Franklin Lears, I was a high school thug. I was a football player, a brawler, who detested all things intellectual." Lears looked peculiar and he was. Unlike the other teachers, he did not have a set lesson plan full of facts that were to be installed into the heads of his students. He had a capacity to listen and to accept the students' ideas as interesting and worth considering, without imposing his own. He couldn't make immediate changes in their attitudes, and he couldn't change everyone, but some of them eventually got to accept that thinking was useful, was within the capacities of even football jocks, and above all, was fun. Lears abandoned the planned textbook, and settled on books that people were talking about at the time, _The Autobiography of Malcolm X_, _Siddhartha_, and _One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest_. Besides the booklist, Lears brought the influence of Socrates, and Edmundson makes plain that the analogy of Lears to Socrates and of Medford High students to listeners in the Athenian agora is not forced and not ridiculous. Socrates (ostensibly, at least), took nothing on faith, questioned everything including what everyone else accepted either unthinkingly or with solemn thought, accepted the thoughts of others as good points of departure for reasoning, and he knew how to laugh. Lears, too.
The book has memorable portraits of fellow students, and especially Edmundson's father. It is best at demonstrating that the old Socratic method still works, and can still inspire ambition. Simple questioning, and insistence on introspection and putting answers into words, created something Medford High had not seen before. "This was a class that people looked forward to going to, that we talked about all the time, nights and weekends." There is much about good teaching in this wise book, and much about living well. Lears only taught a year before going off to law school, and Edmundson has not attempted to keep up with him. It is nice to think, however, that he will pick up this volume and recognize how much effect he had, and how much erudition and clarity he has inspired in this particular student.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars far better than I thought it was gonna be, November 28, 2004
By 
Caraculiambro (La Mancha and environs) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference (Paperback)
I really didn't have time to pick this book up, but I did anyway. It was such a page-turner, though, I finished it in only two days (partly at work!).

Coming into it, I was prepared for yet another well-trodden tale of how some dedicated teacher awakened some recalcitrant pupil or other to the delights of the written word, but this book turned out to be much more profound, moving, and well-written than I was expecting.

Unquestionably the best book of its kind I know of. Touching, humorous . . . the final chapter achieves greatness. And I thought I had outstanding teachers!

Complaints? I thought Edmundson could have done a better job of describing Lears physically: till the end of the book I really couldn't picture him, and I think this would have helped in some parts.

Also, what ever happened to Lears? This coda was conspicuously missing from the book. Sure, there was a quick little note at the end, but what, really, became of him? Obviously Edmundson forwent a more satisfying account of the fate of his great galvanizer for a reason, I felt he should have at least laid out what it was. Or why he apparently never tried to contact him in later years.

I can't believe I'm complaining about this book, though. Something's gotta be wrong with me.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Iconoclast Archetype, January 27, 2005
This book is an excellent memoir, but more importantly, Edmundson portrays one of the best iconoclast figures I've ever come across in Frank Lears. The inspiring thing for all of us is that Lears (not his real name) is a real person and not a character from fiction. I've read all the reviews here and those of you chosing to nit-pick Edmundson for his diversions into football and what not, I believe, are missing his point. His aim is to relate to the reader the concepts advocated by Mr. Lears. Namely, that reading good books, asking tough questions and going against the forces of conformity are ways of liberating one's soul and putting yourself on a truer, as Sarte would say, more authentic path. In this sense, Lears is the personification of that notion. And, that it actually worked on one (or more?) of these knucklehead students is testimony enough.

Like some reviewers, all of us raised in the culture of celebrity lives, I too wished there had been more on Lears, the man. Even if it was an afterword or something. I would've preferred him a bit more flushed out and tangible. But I believe Edmundson deliberately eschewed this approach in favor of focusing on the ideas Lears advocated and what he represented as a person.

One reviewer correctly mentioned that there is an excellent interview with Edmundson on the NPR website and a second interview follow up about him catching up with Mr. Lears 25 years later. (Perhaps he'll put this in a magazine article for the readers here.) In the latter interview, he relates that Lears went to law school (where? unspecified) and recently--he must be in his mid-50's now--has been working in the ex-Soviet republics putting together their codes of law. This seemed consistent to me with the portrait of the artist as a young man. Lears also commented on what he thought Edmundson got right and wrong in the book (Lears is not on the interview, Edmundson recounts their conversation), but I'll leave that to you readers to go hear for yourselves...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, September 25, 2002
By 
This book was incredibly moving to me. Not only was I a student in highschool at about the same time Edmundson was (he doesn't seem to realize that there were many of us who had a worse time of it--he at least had friends), I now teach too and can only dream that some day one of my students might look back and remember something positive I might have passed along. I often felt reading the book that I was reading a novel, not because I didn't believe the stories (I did, every one of them), but because it was so entertaining. Funny stories, great characters and provocative stuff about education too.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read It!, September 12, 2002
By A Customer
I doubt whether the last reviewer (code name dschepps3) has read Teacher. Although the book does take place at Medford High, anyone who reads Teacher will see that it doesn't matter whether every student experienced the school the way Edmundson did (though it's interesting to note that the writer Paul Theroux--dschepps3 points out that Theroux was a student there too--refers to Medford High in The Old Patagonian Express as a monkey house.) My own experience at a very different high school was nothing like Edmundson's either. The truths that come out of these beautifully told stories (stories about not only the transforming teacher Franklin Lears, but also about football, friends, family, war, the 1960's, race, and the woman's movement ) are moving and universal. They are good stories, whether or not you experienced the same things. Plus many of the stories are funny. I laughed out loud. Most important, the writer, who tells us he's a teacher himself now, is interesting and wise. Read it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life is a crap shoot; sometimes you can win (4.5*s), January 9, 2005
By 
J. Grattan (Lawrenceville, GA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference (Paperback)
How does a kid from an Archie Bunker upbringing, obsessed with high school football, though of limited ability, and with no interest in school become a college professor of English in a leading university? As it turns out, with certainly some innate ability and a lot of luck, mostly in the form of a somewhat eccentric new teacher, Frank Lears, newly graduated from Harvard, who managed to get a small class of high school seniors to start thinking about issues of the day and broader subjects, it is possible. The book is not about the pedagogical techniques of Lears. It is far more a commentary on working class life and its obstacles to learning.

Working class life for the author and his contemporaries was nothing short of wandering in a wilderness of ignorance and self-destructive behavior. School was seen as little more than a place to avoid learning and to disrupt if possible. The arena of football was a place to prove manhood, which also extended into the larger world. Aspirations were not to know "something," but to know "someone" to get ahead. Television was the by far the most pervasive cultural influence in working class homes. Parental authority and wisdom were not to be challenged. Actually, street smarts were far more important to acquire to function in communities, not to mention navigate such tensions as those racial.

Frank Lears arrived in the tumult of the late 1960s at the author's working class high school. But the new teacher, generally dressed in too-large suits with a paper clip on his lapel, was not there to dispense great amounts of wisdom to the unwashed. His method was Socratic, that is probing and questioning. Getting kids to think independently was unheard of in those kinds of schools, and there is probably more lip-service paid to that goal, even in contemporary times, than is actually practiced. Lears endured considerable resistance from the students, but was patient enough and made enough efforts to eventually have an impact.

The author is at great pains to emphasize the profound changes that occur in becoming a thinker and an independent obtainer of knowledge. He essentially lost contact with his adolescent community, including his family. Lears is an obscure figure in the book. Little was known about him when he came to teach. As far as his current status, the reader learns only that he left teaching after one year and moved to a small town as a lawyer. Similarly, little is told of the author's classmates. What was the impact of Lears on them? We can only guess. Despite any gaps in following up, the book is really a wonderful story in exploring how an improbable shift in intellectual orientation can occur in a culture that almost completely devalues an empowered, thinking individual. As far as the negative reviewers - Yes, there is some professorial showmanship that perhaps could have been avoided. The author is profoundly aware that Lears changed his life and that is well told. The author's tale expresses well the obstacles that Lear faced.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Criticism without context?, or What Does the Author Say..., March 2, 2004
By 
Matthew E. Jordan (Albany, GA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference (Paperback)
about Sex and Violence? Brooding over the varied, puzzling and, at times, unsubstantiated criticisms of Edmunson's memoir, I felt compelled to weigh in, offering a defense of the more ludicrous critiques, while noting my own concerns about the text.
While every reviewer will inherently reflect there own cultural bias and perspective as a reader, the charges that this is text is a collection of vignettes, devoted to little more than sex, violence, football and the Vietnam War, is dismissive and misleading. What these charges neglect to present is the context in which these topics are discussed. Moreover, this suspicion of "cheap thrills" sadly overlooks one of the more significant aspects of Edmunson's memoir: the criticism and "looking back" analysis of how specific events shaped a young, directionless--I know, a bit redundant--eighteen-year old, working-class Medford boy. Edmunson's mentioning of sex, violence, footabll, or the Vietnam War are merely touchstones for larger observations about forming an independent identity and questioning the groups and group mentalities we ally ourselves with, a particularly effective examination of high school.
With regards to sex, Edmunson merely skirts the issue, or mentions it in the most cursory manner. The most vivid passage is an adult Edmunson as narrator remembering his youthful conversation with another student who claimed knowledge of those girls who "do" or "don't;" at no time in the text is their a mention or description of graphic sexual intercourse. When examining the text's sexual references, the considerate reader notices the discussion is one in which teenagers' claims to sexual "authority" are merely methods to obtaining acceptance by the crowd at large. Have we not experienced this ourselves? We claim to have seen a movie, read a book, obtained some experience in an effort to fit, to gain acceptance. Edmunson reveals how Lears, the title teacher, began to transform the young author's view of his world; the very response great teachers elicit.

In addressing criticisms of the Vietnam War, Edmunson is merely noting the presence, in all its oversimplifications, of a significant cultural moment in his youth. Would we really pay attention to a book, set in a 1968 working-class neighborhood, that failed to mention the war? Is this "all" the text is about? Certainly not. One chapter details how Lears brought SDS representatives from Harvard to discuss their pro-North Vietnam/anit-war position with not only Lear's philosophy students, but any student who wished to hear them speak. While I don't want to give away the irony of what happens, let me just state that Lears certainly didn't bring the Harvard elite to educate the unwashed masses, and the SDS got a little more than they bargained for in "Me'ford."
Much like the references to the Vietnam War and Sex, the alcohol and violence criticisms would lead you to believe that Edmunson's book is verbal Peckinpah. I wonder how many people stopped to consider the possibility that the violence is neither condoned nor celebrated, nor is it even sensationalized violence; Edmunson's violence is a frank discussion of the false masculinity offered in the pursuit of identity through football, a discussion one can witness every fall weekend on countless sports preview shows. Edmunson does not glorify the violence celebrated in male sports; rather, he offers an interesting analogy: A football team, vigorous group energy personified, is like the Greek armies camped outside Troy's walls; the leader of the team, coach or player, is like Achilles, fighting for honor, relishing in poetic praise the enemy's defeat. For Edmunson, this feeling was palpable and narcotic; however, his philosophy teacher introduces a new idea, the Socratic stance, marked by endless and annoying questions--something teams don't like--that lead to a revelation of everyone's limited understanding. In short, Lears offers the young Edmunson a new concept: extended comtemplation rather than rash, though enjoyable, action. This is not a celebration of violence; it is a consideration of athletic violence, and why it exists. And alcohol? Well, yes, Edmunson admits he drank, while also saying that his teenage experiments with alcohol were attempts to desensitize himself, an attempt to avoid any real consideration of why he did what he did. Hardly the alcohol-fueled debauchery other reviewers have mentioned.
These comments aside, yes, this book does have flaws. Often, the reader wishes to know more about Lears, his methods, his actions, his identity. Edmunson does remain silent on these issues, especially when we desire more speech; yet, Edmunson's book is not simply about Lears; it is about the impact, both then and now, one teacher had on one student. To focus solely on Lears would be at the loss of Edmunson's reaction to Lears, and that would be a great loss; however, there are moments when I still want to know exactly what the little man did next. Edmunson's style could also be considered, at times, unnecessarily intellectual and disjointed. While I don't want to psychoanalyze the author--a statement indicating I will; my apologies--it seems like Edmunson is trying to prove he is transformed, so different than the working-class "ruffian" of his youth.
As a teacher, I enjoyed this book; it reminded me of both my own transformational experiences with challenging, unique teachers, and the reasons I have chosen this career (at my alma mater, no less!)
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Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference
Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference by Mark Edmundson (Paperback - September 9, 2003)
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