A package is pretty hard to resist this time of year, and editors have a special fondness for the sort that doesn’t come via Amazon drone. A package is what editors call a cluster of stories on one subject. I’ve never quite understood the appeal. When, as a reader, I confront an editorial package in a magazine, it tends to be with all the enthusiasm I greet the annual report of my health-insurance provider. Really, you expect me to read three articles on the same thing?
My hope, then, is that you won’t notice we have three pieces about education in our feature well. We haven’t wrapped them together with a fancy design or a “Whither Education?” rubric. We haven’t tried to pretend that endless editorial meetings have produced this confluence. But I do hope you’ll read each of the stories—separately, at your leisure; take a week off between each one. Because each story is well worth reading on its own, and each is an example of my favorite kind of Scholar piece—an article written by someone who has not just parachuted in on a subject, as journalists typically do, but who has spent the better part of a lifetime accumulating the wisdom that goes into what he or she has to say.
Our cover story about the disappointing approach to public school reform is by Mike Rose, a writer so distinguished in his field that he rates an interview in the current issue of The Hedgehog Review—a journal I recommend in part because it creates packages of stories I do read with relish. Rose is a professor in the UCLA graduate school of education and the author of important books about education and the poor; he is also an unyielding advocate for the underdog—in this case, public school teachers and their students. Once Rose’s points sink in, read “Habits of Mind,” by Anthony Grafton and James Grossman. These two leading historians (Grafton a scholar of the history of scholarship, Grossman the executive director of the American Historical Association) make a compelling case for the value of teaching research methods to students of the humanities, not so they can know more and more about less and less, but so they can establish habits of critical thinking necessary to any well-educated person. Mull their piece, then read William M. Chace’s “What I Have Taught—and Learned.” Chace was a professor of English for many years at Stanford before becoming president of Wesleyan and then Emory, and in recent years he has taught literature in the continuing studies program at Stanford. He asks himself what he has really been doing in these years as a teacher, and what his students have been getting from him. This searching piece makes an interesting comparison between teaching undergraduates for most of his career and teaching older students, rich in the experience of their own lives, today.
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