She recommends the review and the collection of essays with the title "Why Teach? In Defense of a Real Education" as a good way into the academic year.
What is it now, Day Three of an unprecedented 18 week semester?
Sometimes in her feverish early semester dreamings, Rebel Girl imagines a book club for the college where faculty and staff and administrators read texts like this throughout the year and get together to discuss them monthly in gatherings where tea and wine flows and the food and talk sustain all in ways that truly help what we do here at the little college in the orange groves. Could we get some FLEX credit for that?
...Much of “Why Teach?” concerns the impediments to this search. Under the guise of practicality, universities and their “customers” now stress that education should provide a return on investment. They speak of excellence and innovation, and what they really mean is money and notoriety. They talk of a well-rounded learning experience, and what they really mean is checking off boxes denoting that you’ve taken required courses that weren’t too challenging. Mr. Edmundson contends that the “corporate university” has abdicated its mission to confront our prejudices and conventions while inspiring our passions and talents.
He fervently advocates for the transformative power of a true education because he experienced it firsthand. In high school, he cared about football and rock ’n’ roll more than about literature until he was stirred by great teaching and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” “I think that the highest objective for someone trying to provide a literary education to students is to make such moments of transformation possible,” he writes.
This “highest objective” is also extraordinarily fulfilling. “Teachers who have been moved by great works have been moved to pass the gift on,” he says, with a nod to Wordsworth and Coleridge — and to all professors who introduce students to books that have changed their own lives. Art inspires us; teaching changes us.
Mr. Edmundson worries that too many professors have lost the courage of their own passions, depriving their students of the fire of inspiration. Why teach? Because great professors can “crack the shell of convention,” shining a light on a life’s different prospects. They never aim at conversion, only at what Emerson called “aversion” — bucking conformity so as to discover possibility.
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