For our last discussion of the season in our series on the value of liberal arts education in contemporary society, historian Maxine McClintock, emeritus teacher at Trinity School in New York, talks about her book Letters of Recommendation (Collaboratory for Liberal Learning, 2014) and the role of the liberal arts in secondary education.
"This is a remarkable and rewarding book. In the best tradition of John Dewey's vision of education as a journey that makes for 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." -- Christopher M. Nichols.