Humanities speaker series focuses on education in the 21st century

contact: Mark Schwerin
| WMU News
Photo of Dr. Mark Edmundson.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The sometimes precarious state of education will be explored in detail when the University Center for the Humanities stages its 2017-18 speaker series, "The Promise of Education."

Five scholars and authors from across the nation will converge on the Western Michigan University campus to examine how education promises to be the key to a good life in the 21st century, yet there are many obstacles on the road toward a quality education and the land of opportunity. College students often load up on debt only to graduate into an economy that does not offer high-paying jobs. Under increased scrutiny to produce quantifiable results, public school teachers and university professors struggle to define and defend the goals of a liberal education and, especially, the value of the humanities. Journalists report and analysts of all stripes note the gap between expectations and reality.

The series begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, in 3502 Knauss Hall with a presentation by Dr. Mark Edmundson titled "In Defense of Ideals." In his talk, Edmundson will explore and endorse what he takes to be the three great ideals: courage, compassion and wisdom. He will consider courage in Homer, compassion in the Gospels, and wisdom in the works of Plato and Socrates, asking how someone would pursue one of the ideals in daily life.

Mark Edmundson

Edmundson is a professor of English at the University of Virginia. He's the author of dozens of books, most recently "Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals" and "Why Write?" His book trilogy "Why Read?", "Why Teach?" and "Why Write?" directly addresses the human goods that can be obtained through intellectual pursuits. His forthcoming book, "The Heart of the Humanities: Reading, Writing, Teaching," is due out next year. His essays have been published in Harpers, the Los Angeles Review of Books, American Scholar, The New York Times and many more.

Edmundson has won a Guggenheim Fellowship and earned a National Endowment for the Humanities chair for distinguished teaching. He earned a doctoral degree from Yale University and bachelor's degree from Bennington College.

Upcoming talks

Edmundson's talk is one of five lectures planned in "The Promise of Education" series. All events are free and open to the public. Other upcoming series presentation dates, speakers, times, locations and titles of their talks include:

  • Oct. 19: Kentaro Toyama, W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan School of Information and a fellow the of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, 7 p.m., 2452 Knauss Hall, "Kindling of a Flame: Analogies to Light the Way for Technology in Education."
  • Feb. 8: David Denby, author of two books on reading and teaching and former movie critic at The Atlantic, The Boston Phoenix, New York Magazine and The New Yorker, 7 p.m., 3508 Knauss Hall, "The Humanities in the Age of Demagoguery."
  • March 22: Diane Ravitch, author, researcher and professor of education a New York University and a leading advocate for public education, 7 p.m., Dalton Center Recital Hall, "Education Reform and the Promise of Public Education."
  • April 12: Danielle Allen, professor of government and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, 7 p.m., 2452 Knauss Hall, "Inequality, Citizenship and the Promise of Education."

Center for the Humanities speaker series

The annual Center for the Humanities speaker series is designed to nurture a conversation among scientists, humanists, social scientists, artists, politicians and citizens from all perspectives who live together in a changing world.

Parking for the presentations is available in the parking ramp adjacent to Miller Auditorium.

For more information, contact the Center for the Humanities at or (269) 387-1811.

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