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American Educator
Fall 2002


Table of Contents

Lighting Students' Lives

In our special back-to-school issue, we celebrate the subjects teachers teach—with top scholars writing about the subjects they love. No matter what you teach, we think you'll learn something from each—and take delight in the intellectual grist each offers.

Curing Provincialism
Why We Educate the Way We Do

A Conversation with Jacques Barzun

History science, art, literature, math—these are the core of our intellectual inheritance. As the lead-off to this special issue, eminent cultural historian Jacques Barzun discusses the origins of these subjects and how the frameworks they provide enable us to extend our understanding of the world and reach beyond our natural, human parochialism.

Opening Minds
Why I Teach
By Patrick Welsh

Even after 30 years, sharing great works of literature with teenagers is a fascinating, often surprising, endeavor. As students wrestle with poetry, plays, and novels, they begin to feel the thrill of learning.

American History
A Drama of Sweep and Majesty
By Wilfred M. McClay

American history is often thought of as "thin and provincial gruel." In fact, says this historian, American history is a tremendous drama where the great issues of human existence—such as the proper means and ends of liberty, order, individuality, prosperity, and democracy—come to life.

The Different, but Necessary, Truths of History and Science

Windows on American History

The Whole Shebang
How Science Produced the Big Bang Model
By Timothy Ferris

Curiosity, observation, experimentation, theory-building—all of these are part of the slow process that moves science from hunches to lasting models. Here, the author offers a wholly readable, up-to-date account of the accumulation of evidence that has led scientists to have such confidence in the Big Bang Model.

Visions of Wisdom: An Art Essay

Across time and continents, art has honored what societies have most highly regarded. From grand portraits of the wise to cheerful school scenes, you'll see in this essay how art has depicted wisdom, learning, and teaching—and reinforced the value of education.

Huckleberry Finn: 1948
A Community of Saints
By Lionel Trilling

A testament to the possibility of interracial respect and friendship. Huckleberry Finn is now the most-taught piece of American literature in American high schools. Speaking to us from the year 1948, literary critic Lionel Trilling analyzes this "subversive book," noting that no one who reads it will be able to accept without question the assumptions of the morality by which he lives.

The Life That Shaped Mark Twain's Anti-Slavery Views
By Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan, and Geoffrey Ward

Inventing Numbers (PDF)
How Mathematicians Filled the Inky Void
By David Berlinski

1, −5, 0, ½, these numbers seem so ordinary—but where did they come from? Why are they necessary? With audacity and wit, mathematicians have called them up from the abyss.

Articles not posted online are available. To request a copy, please send an e-mail to

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About American Educator

American Educator is a quarterly journal of educational research and ideas published by the American Federation of Teachers. Recent articles have focused on such topics as reducing the achievement gap between poor and affluent students, heading off student discipline problems, teaching an appreciation and understanding of democracy, the benefits of a common coherent curriculum, and other issues affecting children and education here and abroad. Total circulation, as of our most recent issue, is over 900,000.

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