Christopher M. Nichols

Rewarding Account of Contemporary Education Through the Eyes of a Student, a Teacher, and a College Choice.
By Christopher M. Nichols. Former student. Assistant Professor of History. Oregon State University.

This is a remarkable and rewarding book. In the best tradition of John Dewey’s vision of education as a journey that makes for a more fully formed, flourishing human beings as well as a more informed citizenry, Maxine McClintock has constructed an intricate and compelling account not just of the fictional student Emilia’s winding “senior year odyssey” toward college (and beyond) but also of the mentor-mentee educative process by which both share insights, learn, and develop through intellectual exchanges. The erudition here is striking and subtle. William James, Randolph Bourne, Dewey, Thomas Jefferson, and scores of other major thinkers appear and serve to propel the narrative as well as the analysis, provoking much bigger questions and concerns than simply: where should Emilia go to school? This is a book that interrogates the proper and best role of intellectuals and educators in society. It ponders the city “as educator.” It critiques and embraces the drawbacks as well as the opportunities provided by Emilia’s elite private school. It investigates the history of ideas and the “purposes of a liberal arts education” in a democracy. And it challenges readers to consider how self-awareness is and might be enabled via education as the book probes how and why this is not happening more in the U.S. At the core of this book, then, lies the so-called “education crisis” and the “crisis of the humanities” as integral to the “dysfunctional meritocracy” endemic to the contemporary educational landscape.

Blending radical and conservative solutions, the book takes the form of a dialogue of sorts (akin in form to a more accessible Dialogues of Plato perhaps?) to focus on the individual person as the primary “ends” of education. Thus, Letters of Recommendation concludes the Emilia-Doc exchange by calling out poignantly “to recover our original intent of equal educational excellence for all.” There is much more to this rich extended essay than a brief review can detail, so do read it. The best audiences for this book are teachers, professors, parents of students navigating college selection/admission, and especially high school and college age students, but it is also a work that could and should be widely read by citizens far beyond this important audience.

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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