Mark Edmundson's essays reclaim college not as the province of high-priced tuition, career training, and interactive online courses, but as the place where serious people go to broaden their minds and learn to live the rest of their lives.
A renowned professor of English at the University of Virginia, Edmundson has felt firsthand the pressure on colleges to churn out a productive, high-caliber workforce for the future. Yet in these essays, many of which have run in places such as Harper's and the New York Times, he reminds us that there is more to education than greater productivity. With prose exacting yet expansive, tough-minded yet optimistic, Edmundson argues forcefully that the liberal arts are more important today than ever, and a necessary remedy for our troubled times. Why Teach? is brimming with the wisdom and inspiration that make learning possible.
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.