Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mark Edmundson: "Why Teach?"

One of the books on my Fall reading list is Mark Edmundson's Why Teach: In Defense of a Real Education.  (Click here for some of my thoughts on a recent Edmundson essay adapted from Why Teach).  The book looks like another contribution to a genre devoted to defending liberal learning against attacks from politicians and administrators who are pushing the practical and vocational dimensions of higher education.  Andrew Delbanco's College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be and Martha Nussbaum's Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities are also representative of this genre.

I don't think we can ever get enough of these kinds of books.  Whenever they come out they stir conversation around the importance of the humanities at a time when the humanities appear to be on the ropes in this country.

Over at Insider Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty shares some highlights from a recent interview with Edmundson.  Here is a taste:

But what is a real education – and why does it need defending?

“It's an education in which the student follows the Platonic injunction: Know Thyself,” Edmundson said in an e-mail interview from Nova Scotia, where he recently vacationed. “And also seeks to know the world. It's not about career planning or preparation for success. When you know yourself career and success can follow with ease – if you want them.”

All too frequently, however, Edmundson argues, that kind of education is upended by the goals of the “corporate university” and the broader consumer culture, in which iPads and television largely have supplanted literature and philosophy.