- Big Ideas in a Small Frame.
- By Grace Roosevelt. Associate Professor. Metropolitan College of New York.
Within a small frame this book packs more substantial thinking about education than most books three times its size. Letters of Recommendation takes the form of an epistolary exchange between a bright but perplexed high school senior and her patient, savvy history teacher. The main topic of their conversation is the student’s upcoming decision about her college choice, but in the course of their letters the women discuss important moments in U.S. history, philosophies of teaching and learning, and the growing inequality in American educational institutions today.
The epistolary novel begins with Emilia writing to Doc that she “made a big mistake” when she asked Doc to recommend her for early admission to Harvard. Included in the witty, profound, and often provocative exchanges that follow are dialogues about the difference between education and schooling, reflections on what is gained and lost inside the “bubble” of an elite private school, and honest portrayals of one adolescent’s struggle to deal with the competing pulls of homework and friendship.
A constant backdrop for the women’s communications is the heady, vibrant, cultural life of New York City, and woven throughout their exchanges is the thematic thread of the city as educator. Might not the city provide at least as valuable an education for an open-minded 18-year-old as Harvard? Couldn’t a young inquisitive person learn as much from exploring the museums, libraries, and streets of a great city as she would from the formal, institutionalized, “higher” education of a university?
At issue are questions about how young people best learn, what constitutes the most important knowledge, and what true education is about. Letters of Recommendation can fit easily into a backpack, purse, or briefcase. It’s a great read.
Online booksellers carry Letters — Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Tower Books — and your favorite bookstore can order it for you — Letters of Recommendation by Maxine McClintock is published in The Reflective Commons (New York: Collaboratory for Liberal Learning, 2013). ISBN 978-1-937828-004, $24.95.