Book of the Month

Back to December 2013 Ed Reporter

Book of the Month


Why Teach?: In Defense of Real Education, Mark Edmundson, Bloomsbury USA, 2013, $24.00

When Mark Edmundson was in high school, a transformative teacher happened into his life. “He mocked us, and not always so genially, for never doing the reading, never knowing the answer, never having a thought in our heads, . . . for ignoring this chance to learn a little something. . . .” That teacher only taught at the high school for one year, but he inspired his students and Edmundson claims to have “never met his equal.”

Dr. Edmundson is a prizewinning scholar, author, and professor at the University of Virginia. In Why Teach? he shares his perspective on students, parents, fellow professors, and institutions; he says most lack courage. He calls on professors to be “uncool”: to grade hard, and to challenge students, even though they may face fallout for it in today’s atmosphere of “serving” students. He encourages parents to allow children to experience the “hard knocks of everyday life.” He emphasizes the necessary role of failure, which encourages people to continually “try things that don’t work.”

Edmundson says, “Real reading is reincarnation . . . a higher form of consciousness.” He claims good literature allows one to experience “the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who . . . are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, more alive than they themselves are.” He says the “magic of words” unleashes the “power of imagination.” This is what Common Core opponents fear K-12 students will miss while reading informational texts.

The author criticizes group projects and classes that rely on the exchange of “student ideas” because students don’t acquire information from this. He says students usually “lack the confidence to acknowledge their most precious asset for learning: their ignorance.”

He also exhorts educators to stop “readings,” which is deconstructing literary works from the perspectives of gender, race, Marxist, Freudian, and other artificial constructs that venture far from the author’s intent and show no respect for the work on its own merit.

Dr. Edmunson urges parents and students to be aware of two types of colleges: the “Corporate City” where “everyone is on the make . . . trying to succeed” and the “Scholarly Enclave.” Students at the scholarly enclave are “seeking knowledge so as to make the lives of other human beings better.” He claims, “It is only through unselfish effort on behalf of something larger than yourself that anything like happiness arises.”

Why Teach? suggests direct and simple ways to improve the way colleges educate students.