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Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education Hardcover – August 20, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1St Edition edition (August 20, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 162040107X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1620401071
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #388,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Edmundson, professor of English at the University of Virginia, laments the erosion of a college education from a search for learning and meaning in life to a search for career training, online courses, and inflated grades. Exploring education’s changes in recent decades from a purely intellectual pursuit to one that is commercially driven, Edmundson points to demographic and market forces, including the decline in birthrates since the baby boom and the incredible competition for students that has resulted in treating students as consumers. As professors and colleges feel compelled to keep their customers happy, there is a decidedly adverse impact on the quality of education, with less emphasis on the philosophical and more on the practical or even the entertaining. The consumer ethos is overtaking even the left-leaning politics and political correctness that have so worried academia’s critics. He ends each essay with a declaration to fight against the trend (e.g., “No more laptops in class”). With literary references spanning from Homer to Joyce Carol Oates, Edmundson’s essays are filled with ideals, recollections, and poetry. To read this book is to experience just the kind of course Edmundson admires, one that provokes thought and self-examination. A heartfelt, beautifully written, profound, and often hilarious appeal to rage against the machinery of modern education. --Vanessa Bush

Customer Reviews

If you are a teacher, it will help you better recognize and manage the challenges facing you and your students.
Francis O Walker
Definitely worth reading if you are concerned about the role of the humanities, the liberal arts, or true education in today’s consumer driven universities.
BillyJ34
If you are a graduate of a terrific high school or college, I suspect this book will make you recall your favorite teachers and how they opened your mind.
John G. Palfrey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By David Clemens on August 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Mark Edmundson is the Gandalf of higher education, a scholar and word mage who is deeply curious and endlessly wise. In this new collection of essays, Edmundson takes the measure of education's volatile last decade, from students who now seem "frightened of their own lives" to "the corporate university," a honeycomb run by legions of suits and clerks. Professor Edmundson describes the book as being "in defense of a real education," one that expands a student's humanity as opposed to today's MOOCified, accelerated, data-driven mills stamping out job-ready components for the global economic engine. If you are concerned with how big-time education became dehumanizing, and whether it can be or should be salvaged, this book is for you.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By wordsmith on September 24, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This should really be titled, "Why Learn?" as it is a testament to the need to develop minds for the continuation of American society. Sounds lofty but when you read the book, you'll understand that our society is really what's at stake. I am in the process of helping my son look for a university to continue his education -- problem is, all over the country I hear that the reason I should send my child to college is so that he may get a job afterward. One after another they gloat over their percentage of after college placement. I'm a realist, I don't want my son to starve, but I also want to know that the reason he's employable is that his education prepared him to think analytically, to write exquisitely, to delve into subject areas to which he's not been previously exposed -- to think! Now that would be something in which I'd be willing to invest!

Why learn? Mark Edmundson will spark or renew your thinking on education with this book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Francis O Walker on August 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Students are changing and universities are changing. In a structured series of interrogatory essays, Mark Edmundson describes these changes and the mechanisms underlying them as a backdrop to 'Why Teach?'. In it, he addresses concerns over the increasingly corporate world of university life, the shift away from the humanities to career catering, and the loss of depth of engagement by students at the expense of breadth. If you are a parent about to send a young adult to college or if you are that young person, this book will help you better understand where and how one can find value in an education. If you are a teacher, it will help you better recognize and manage the challenges facing you and your students. Topical, thoughtful, and open-ended, the book will set in motion a chain of thinking, questioning and, just possibly, insight into what universities currently are and what they can become.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. James on October 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was expecting a more linear analysis of possible answers to the question, and waited for some recommendations on how to address what ails higher ed today. These never surfaced, at least not directly. This is a collection of what appear to have been talks delivered on different convocation occasions - freshman orientation, commencement, new faculty orientation, etc. Yes, in many ways we seem to have lost sight of what teaching in higher ed should be doing (at its most exalted level) but it wasn't news.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dr. J. on December 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a collection of disjointed essays about higher education. There are some chapters that have unique and insightful comments and others that do not. Since I liked about 1/2 of the chapters in this book and disliked the other half, I am giving this 3 stars. From my perspective, the best chapter in the book is how to identify scholars at a university. This chapter should be a "must read" for students who truly want to challenge themselves at any university or college. I would hope versions of this chapter could be expanded upon and given to high school counselors across the country. Certainly there is significant change coming in higher education, but we have to also be aware of the limitations and other problems. In the chapter that laments UVa using their arena for Hulk Hogan or Monster Trucks is senseless. Saying it should only be used for UVa sports or overflow in the case of a rainy commencement suggests the author is not clear about financial constraints at a university. Plus, it is quite likely the sports arena was built using a combination of development funds and state or city bonds. It is a public arena and getting 'profit' from it can only help the public including those at the UVa.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on November 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This collection of essays by Mark Edmundson, an English professor at the University of Virginia, talks about what it means to experience a “real education”. In particular, he seems to be reaching for some of those ineffable things like character and imagination that come from being challenged by a good teacher with high level material. Certainly, this is an admirable goal and we need teachers like Edmundson to keep this flame alive. On the other hand, though I like to think that, as a teacher myself, I am much like Edmundson, I am not quite as pessimistic as he is.

I agree with Edmundson that schools have gotten too much like corporations and have gone too far down the road of treating students like consumers. I agree that teachers are too often forced to be entertainers to be considered effective though standardized test score are the bane of the high school teachers’ existence as opposed to student reviews. And yet there always has been and always will be a class of students that attend school to learn skills solely so that they can find really good jobs. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I went to school and now I teach because I believe in learning for learning’s sake; and yet, that portion of the student body like us has always been small.

There I other things Edmundson discusses with which I take issue. Though I appreciate what football did for him and I do believe that sports can build character, I am a firm believer that fewer things have done more to damage education, particularly at the college level, than the association of sports with schools. Sports should be separated from schools and turned into what they really are anyway: professional minor league farm programs for professional sports.
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