It's a Dirty Job | Letters | Chicago Reader

It's a Dirty Job 

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Dear Ms. True:

When Adam Langer informed me last spring that he wished to write an article for the Reader about me and my teaching career [Our Town, September 11], I readily gave my permission, for I agreed with him that teachers are too infrequently recognized for the valuable work they do. Langer's article touches on some central features of my life and rightly stresses some of my concerns about both American democracy and American education, which I see as inextricably bound together. As I said in my Agape House lecture, democracy always and everywhere lives a precarious existence, and if our society allows citizens to remain largely ignorant of our history and of the nature of the world in which they live, democracy in America will be severely threatened. Hence I stressed the need for teachers to teach not only their own subjects--in my case, American literature--but also to assist their students in the difficult but essential task of understanding the social, economic, and political forces which exercise such powerful influences upon each of us.

If I was critical of American higher education, it was because I believe that too often our colleges and universities contribute to the "dumbing down" of our citizenry, and about that concern Langer's account is accurate. I am disturbed, however, that one of my quoted statements might be misinterpreted. When I said, "We make assumptions about what students know, and then we leap over those areas that we don't want to teach, those areas we find boring," I was referring to English grammar, which in many universities has not been taught for a generation or more. Without that context, my words could be interpreted as an unwarranted criticism of my former University of Illinois at Chicago colleagues, for the vast majority of whom I have great admiration.

And Adam has my thanks. I did not expect to be honored in this fashion.

Preston Browning

Associate Professor of English Emeritus

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