New York Times: How Four Years Can (and Should) Transform You
Mark Edmundson’s Essays Ask, ‘Why Teach?’:
When young people starting their college careers ask me what they should look for when they get to campus, I tell them: find out who the great teachers are. It doesn’t matter much what the subject is. Find a real teacher, and you may open yourself to transformation — to discovering whom you might become. This can be the great gift of a liberal education.
Yes, I sometimes get puzzled looks. Or eye rolls.
If I meet any students heading to the University of Virginia, I will tell them to seek out Mark Edmundson, an English professor and the author of a new collection of essays called Why Teach? (2014). For Mr. Edmundson, teaching is a calling, an urgent endeavor in which the lives — he says the souls — of students are at stake.
Mr. Edmundson loves to teach, but he hates the conditions under which much teaching takes place today, even at an elite university like Virginia. These conditions — the consumer mentality of students and their families, the efforts of administrators to provide a full spa experience and the rush of faculty to escape from the classroom into esoteric research — make real teachers an endangered species in the academic ecosystem. In this context, Mr. Edmundson reminds us of the power strong teachers have to make students rethink who they are and whom they might become. This is what a real education is all about....
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.
Despite the forces arrayed against them, in the next few weeks, students across the country will find their way to professors like Mr. Edmundson, teachers eager to continue the fight for real education. I wouldn’t bet against them.