Fifteen early decision recommendations to write, well so much for getting away over the Columbus Day weekend. Maybe one year I’ll write the recommendation I really want to write and submit it to the Alden Advocate. What would that be?…

Dear Members of the Senior Class,

   As both a student and teacher of long standing, allow me to introduce a bit of much needed heresy into the college admissions process. Contrary to conventional wisdom, being admitted to your first choice does not guarantee you will achieve an education. I know that sounds ludicrous but only because you, and most of the American public, operate under a linguistic misperception — that being schooled and becoming educated are one and the same.

   If you are accepted to your first choice, what you can count on is having the opportunity to accumulate stellar credentials that attest to your skill at learning what you’re taught. As you know that’s no small deal because it’s those credentials that will make climbing the ladder of success easier. But becoming educated is different from becoming certified. Becoming certified depends on cultivating a relationship between you and another, in this case an academic institution. Becoming educated depends on the relationship you forge with yourself.

   Achieving an education requires wrestling with questions the answers of which aren’t found in the back of any book. Questions like: What are my aspirations? What means will enable me to attain them?  Who are exemplars that embody them? Don’t kid yourselves. As innocuous as these questions seem, they are fraught with risk. The quest for their answers will take every ounce of your smarts, skill and passion. They demand nothing less than marshaling the courage to imbue your experience with meaning.



Letters of Recommendation creates a pedagogical dialogue between a teacher and her student in which the difference between becoming schooled and achieving an education emerges. Letters also affirms the importance of exemplars for an education to take place. It affirms a student’s self-reliance in the face of felt uncertainties and a teacher’s trust that her presence as a full, human person has value and meaning towards that end.

To Purchase

Online booksellers carry LettersAmazon, 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.

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