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Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  283 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
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 prod
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published August 20th 2013 by Bloomsbury USA
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Oct 12, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
Some essays made me grateful all over again that I was an English major. They articulated what it was I found so valuable about it, and why I still hold it sacred, even in the face of so many iterations of "And what will you do with that?"

Other essays made me doubt or question my own teaching, mostly in a productive way, and not a despairing one. Should I really care if my students enjoy the class? Or find it interesting? Am I pandering to that lowest common denominator and making biology into s
Nov 23, 2014 Chrisl rated it really liked it
Starts off with an "A" grade. As often, with anthologies, tending to start in the middle, I began reading on page 119, "My First Intellectual" ... about "Doug Meyers came to Medford High School with big plans for teaching his philosophy course. Together with a group of self-selected seniors, he was going to ponder the eternal questions... "

"Medford High School, whatever its appearances, was not a school. It was a place where you learned to do--or were punished for failing in--a variety of exerci
Apr 11, 2014 Larry rated it really liked it
Edmundson's essays, most reprinted from the Chronicle of Higher Education or Harper's, strongly defend the liberal arts while chipping away at the vocational focus of much of higher education. The most famous piece is "Liberal Arts & Lite Entertainment," but others ("The Uncoolness of Good Teachers") are as good. One essay in particular, "A Word to the New Humanities Professor," offers a stunning critique of today's higher education by identifying the skills that it takes to survive as an as ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
I've been reading for so long that and find many books easy enough to digest that I sometimes can blow through 2 or 3 300 page books in a day. This rather small book however was different. The ideas some familiar some new required a slow digestion in other words it took time and thinking to read this one. Mark Edmundson is an English Professor at the University of Virginia and while he admits himself that at times he is in danger of sounding like an old curmudgeon he makes some very serious foun ...more
May 01, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it
Why teach?

Because young people need to learn how to be measurably productive members of our global economy!

I'm joking, of course. No, he did not say that because Edmundson is sane.

Edumndson breaks zero new ground here. None.

Thank goodness.

But he does remind us of what we once knew before we went bonkers.

Thank goodness.

We teach, first, because, let's face it, we are--or were once--thrilled by the questions that drive our field. Also because we want to introduce young people to a world not o
H Dos Santos
Sep 06, 2013 H Dos Santos rated it liked it
Mark Edmundson is the kind of writer that is loved by those who agree with him and tolerated by the rest of the world. He is often right, just ask him and he'll tell you, but he assumes that every reader shares his opinion. This book's premise is interesting, but the author's paternalistic tone skews the message far too often.
Jan 09, 2016 Nicole rated it really liked it
The higher education system in this country has devolved into a factory for degrees and accreditations—so postulates UVA lit professor Mark Edmundson in this collection of essays. And he does share some compelling evidence to support the claim. From the disenchanted youths of the ’90s to the overbooked, hyper-involved students of today, higher education no longer challenges the status quo.
The essays range in topic from the benefits and pitfalls of sports to a dystopian peek into corporately stru
Laura Jordan
Sep 23, 2013 Laura Jordan rated it really liked it
Edmundson is a little full of himself -- and maybe even justifiably so -- and there were some parts of the book that seemed disconnected to the others (I didn't realize that many of these essays had been previously published elsewhere), but on the whole there was a lot of head-nodding as I read through it. I particularly loved "The Corporate City and the Scholarly Archive" that takes down shiny private schools (much like the one I work at) as simple "credential factories," where students learn h ...more
Jen Bradley
Dec 06, 2013 Jen Bradley rated it it was amazing
The best and worst book I've read on education! I believe this book is meant to inspire a return to a meaningful liberal arts education (as opposed to the job training college has become), but I found it to be infuriating and frustrating. Edmundson hits it on the nose in his discussions of problems in education and society as a whole. I was and still am one of a dying (or dead?) breed of students, and I have no desire to be an educator of the consumer/student of the present. Regardless, I think ...more
Darrin Snyder Belousek
Feb 01, 2016 Darrin Snyder Belousek rated it really liked it
I seldom recommend a book as a "must read." But if you are--or were or will be--a teacher or student in higher education (especially in the humanities), this book is essential. As a college professor of philosophy, I hear much these days about the technique of teaching and the skills to be taught with relatively little concern for the why and wherefore of a real education. Thus the college/university has evolved into a (rather expensive) form of what I'll call "entertrainment" (entertainment plu ...more
Nathan Huffstutler
A lot of good food for thought. A main theme is Edmundson's critique of higher education for drifting from humane values to corporate values and pragmatism.

My favorite essays were "Against Readings," "The English Major," "The Corporate City," and "Do Sports Build Character or Damage It?"
Nov 18, 2013 Daniel rated it liked it
This is the sort of book you pick up and read here and there. I found the essay on his favorite teacher interesting. His overall argument appears to be that we go to university to learn how to think about how to live rather than to gain a credential to make money. As a liberal-arts major, I certainly agree, but I'm guessing others have different objectives.
Dec 21, 2013 Sally rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
Well-written personal essays approaching from different angles the question of what education is and should be, especially considering the distortions of higher education by current university administration economics/politics and by student expectations. Some repetition, but I enjoyed reading this book.
Jeff Manning
Oct 20, 2015 Jeff Manning rated it really liked it
As expected (though quite surprised) I agree with his assessment of education. The liberal arts have been abandoned for job specialization and has created a people who want to be entertained and ruled without being participants. Though I think his source material (the Great Books) need to be read, it is the presuppositions or worldview in which we engage that material that will matter most. It is an honest assessment of current education as a whole, not just higher Ed, and includes some choice l ...more
378.73 EDM

My review: I picked up this book on the hope that give me some inspiration about how to teach. After several pages reading, I feel this book actually analysing failure in high-education college: lack passion in learning. So I am more intriguing to know the author solve this problem, after I reading "Excellent sheep" which address the mediocrity in elite schools.
Fellow students Parts have 8 chapters are sincere, disturbing writing address the questions what student want in the college.
Nov 17, 2013 Rageofanath rated it really liked it
The point of view expressed in "Why Teach?" is very characteristic of the older generation of teachers, and as such can be critical of the student's generation at times. As a millennial reading what was often a critique of my generation, I found the outside perspective jarring at times, and accurate at others. Fortunately this is one of the older folks that understands that the culture the millennials find themselves in is not of their own construction, and having reached that realization, he ca ...more
Edward Sullivan
Nov 06, 2013 Edward Sullivan rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, education
This collection of previously published essays offers witty, scathing critiques of higher education. A recurring theme in Edmundson's critique is the commercialization of higher education where colleges and universities are more focused on marketing themselves than educating people. The student has become the customer who is always right and the job of the educator is to provide tools to the students so that they can become better tools of our society and fit into the global economy. Edmundson r ...more
Dec 01, 2013 Marks54 rated it really liked it
This book by an English professor at the University of Virginia presents a group of essays in defense of the liberal arts (and of studying English literature in particular). This defense is on its own terms rather than oriented towards the acquisition of marketable skills or the entertainment of students. Studying the liberal arts is valuable because it what thinking mature adults should do to examine who they are and what they value. This argument is not new here but Professor Edmundson does an ...more
Dec 26, 2014 Eileen rated it really liked it
A good read about the real life of being a professor with insight into the need for a liberal arts education. I enjoyed the author's personal stories about his students and perspectives about the inner workings of teaching at a university. It was also interesting to read his references to classical authors as he is an English professor. I highly recommend this book to my education friends for a vacation read. I just might download another one of his books now.
Hayden Chandler
Apr 01, 2014 Hayden Chandler rated it it was amazing
This book was a welcome cold splash I desperately needed. It is inspiring and a must read for parents, students, professors and most of all for the higher-ups: the administrators, the budget busy-bees, and all those concerned with the superficial and material profits of education.
Edmundson asks us to discover ourselves and to seek an education that aides us. I am inclined to follow his advice. I'm convinced.
Feb 11, 2014 Amy rated it it was ok
If I could give a half star to add to this I would. I envisioned the book to be something different than what it was. The author laments about how education and his role as a university professor has changed (not for the better in his opinion) for the worse. This left me depressed for my children and their lives as students as I agree with some of his points about the changes.
Jan 08, 2014 Kathy rated it it was amazing
Because I teach English, and because I teach English in order to provide a forum for students to engage in answering the big questions, I loved this book because it validates how I've approached my job as a high school English teacher all these years. If education is not designed to cause students to think and to question, then what's the point? I've never seen myself as a career-trainer but always as a life-examiner, in the sense of helping students to ask pointed questions about who they are, ...more
Dec 16, 2013 Zach rated it it was amazing
Just let me quote:

"Good teachers know that now, in what's called the civilized world, the great enemy of knowledge isn't ignorance, though ignorance will do in a pinch. The great enemy of knowledge is knowingness. It's the feeling encouraged by TV and movies and the Internet that you're on top of things and in charge. You're hip and always know what's up. Good teachers are constantly fighting against knowingness by asking questions, creating difficulties, raising perplexities. And they're consta
Lin Lin
Dr. Edmundson warns that the American education is being taken over by the spirit of corporate/business mentality. High school graduates come to college campus to take the required credits for a better job rather than looking for opportunities to be inspired, to be intellectually challenged, and then to be transformed. Reading classics and poetry with an English major is no longer valued as much as a degree in business management or accounting. He calls for all teachers, particularly college pro ...more
Kara Poe Alexander
Jul 15, 2014 Kara Poe Alexander rated it really liked it
Shelves: work_teaching
Thought-provoking take on the trend in higher ed towards corporatization. It's a little on the conservative, anti-technology side (and I dislike that he doesn't use gender-neutral pronouns), but he does call us to more meaningful education that focuses on changing the souls of us all.
Jackie G.
Jan 30, 2014 Jackie G. rated it it was amazing
Very thought-provoking. It made me consider the motivations that bring people to higher education and even the impulses that drive our culture itself. Although I did not agree with everything that was written in this book, I do agree with the underlying principle: you need to select your course of study with the goal of nourishing your soul, with finding the thing that makes you more "you" than anything else. Results and material success shouldn't matter and schools of all levels should stop foc ...more
Dec 16, 2013 Tonya rated it really liked it
This was an intriguing book for me. During the first half of the essays my heart was beating fast just reading some of the material. I am a passionate educator so the author's words struck a chord with me. I felt some of the views, especially during the second half of my reading were too pessimistic and hopeless for me. Many observations without solutions to accompany them. However, this book made me think and ponder. I always appreciate that! I also liked that there was a sense of humor to some ...more
Deborah Parker
Jan 01, 2014 Deborah Parker rated it it was amazing
Bought this after I had borrowed it from a friend. Really like the directness with which Edmundson attacks some of the current practices in academia--treating students like clients, the difficulties faced by new faculty in the humanities, idolizing sports (but also appreciating them for what they do), MOOCs. Also like the way he weaves in Homer, Blake and other great writers he admires. Big question for me is will academics do as he urges in the last chapter, namely, be proactive in communicatin ...more
Feb 01, 2014 Carrie rated it really liked it
Though Edmundson can be a bit pretentious/self-congratulatory at times, his essays are very thought-provoking. He calls to account the "business" of higher education and presents a chilling glimpse of the current college student's mindset and how the activity carousel we have our younger children spinning on contributes to it. Ouch!
Jesse Sleamaker
Jan 19, 2015 Jesse Sleamaker rated it it was amazing
amazing, gritty, curmudgeonly defense of liberal arts education and the art of professorship.
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“The English major reads because, as rich as the one life he has may be, one life is not enough.” 8 likes
“How did the students respond to being treated like customers? They didn’t seem to mind at all. From what one could see, they loved it.” 0 likes
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