Its title, Letters of Recommendation, hints at the angst felt about getting accepted by college, employer, and the world at large. But that angst hides the real challenge-forming an aware, purposeful sense of self. Letters of Recommendation shows this pedagogical problem when all the externals are right.
Emilia, a girl who seemingly has it all, asks an admired teacher, Doc, for a letter of recommendation supporting early admission to a top college. Emilia withdraws the request, beginning to doubt what she's doing, and why, and what she really wants in life. Doc senses her unease. Letters result, back and forth through the school year, with subtle attention to the girl's emerging sense of self and the teacher's presence, both humane and professional. The year ends, the exchange stops; life's externals appear settled for now, with the larger questions deepened, but still open, as they always are.
Letters offers no easy steps, no how-to's, no magic methods. Instead, it heightens awareness of what goes on as good education takes place. It affirms a student's self-reliance in the face of felt uncertainties and a teacher's trust that her presence as a full, human person has value and meaning in the work of education. The letters themselves do not exemplify an instructional method, but serve to direct attention to the inner lives of a student and her teacher. The letters create a thought-provoking book, a pedagogical dialogue. And the dialogue's privileged setting does not celebrate the rich and famous. It is a way to set aside the material complications, which intrude in our lives and make it difficult to concentrate on what is essential, not only for the few, but for each and all.