Guest Post: Honor Mike Rose by Continuing His Work

Senators Promote Partnerships to Boost Affordability

Tributes to Mike Rose keep coming in, so I’m going to keep publishing them. You can read previous tributes from Rebecca Weaver and Harvey J. Graff. – John Warner

Honor Mike Rose by Continuing His Work
By Elaine Maimon

August 16, 2021

The world of 2021 is so strange. We read life-changing news on social media, and we review memories on preserved email files.

On Monday, August 15, as I scrolled through Facebook, I saw a note from rhetoric/composition scholar Kelly Ritter saying, “Among his other many invaluable observations about so-called basic writers, Mike Rose famously asserted that ‘students float to the mark you set.’ May we keep that reminder in our collective pockets forever.” I wondered why Kelly was using the past tense and responded, “Mike Rose is wise and inspirational.” Then I scrolled further and was devastated to find out that the past tense was correct.

How could this be? Mike and I were emailing as recently as August 3—less than two weeks ago. I had emailed Mike to thank him for the inspiration Back to School had provided for an article I had just published on reenrolling adults in higher education.

Mike responded with his ever-present affirmation, enthusiasm, and generosity. He added kind greetings to my husband Mort and to my daughter Gillian, who discovered Mike’s work as a graduate student and became a fan. 

On my 2010 holiday card I told Mike that Gillian had completed her University of Pennsylvania PhD. Mike emailed, “Hey Gillian, big shout out to you on the diss!” 

On New Year’s Eve 2012, after Mike read the note on my holiday card about Gillian’s continued admiration, he wrote, “Tell Gillian she has great taste! (And that she is a sweetheart to say nice things about my stuff.” Mike also sent me an inscribed copy of Back to School, with the following inscription: “To Elaine—With deep respect and endless admiration for all you’ve done for so many for so long. Your pal, Mike.” Right back at you, Mike.

Mike and I were pals for decades across geography and time. Mike’s 1989 book, Lives on the Boundary: The Struggles and Achievements of America’s Underprepared, was a game changer for those of us with a youthful commitment to inclusive education. The book recounts Mike’s own story of class barriers almost denying him an education until a responsive teacher recognized his talents. Lives on the Boundary is now a classic. If you haven’t read it, please read it immediately. If you read it years ago, please read it again now when the hour is upon us to recognize strengths in disenfranchised students.

Over the years Mike and I met and socialized at academic conferences. That’s how he got to know my husband and daughter. Zoom may be fine for listening to keynote speeches, but nothing replaces the friendship and camaraderie developed in the hallways and cocktail lounges of conference hotels. Any administrator reading this who is thinking of saving money post-pandemic by limiting travel, please reconsider. Email exchanges can maintain colleagueship and friendship, but the personal connection is the foundation.

In my August 2021 email exchange with Mike, I shared with him our big family news—our son Alan’s publication of Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning.

Mike responded: “Well, I am very impressed. When I was writing Possible Lives, I spent two weeks in the Kentucky Eastern Coal Field, and just that brief time gave me a sense of the richness of the area that is so violated in Vance’s awful book.”

Once again, Mike brings lived experience to the insights in his books. He told me that he was deep into writing his latest book, which I hope will be published in part.

Under Mike’s signature in his recent emails he inserted the following: 

I have some new books out: 

The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker. Tenth Anniversary Edition 

Why School: Reclaiming Education for All of Us-Revised and Expanded 

Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education–Now out in paperback 

Public Education Under Siege, a collection edited with Michael Katz–Now out in paperback 

 Visit my website and blog 

Last blog entry: “The Desk: A brief memoir on the power of imagination and language”

I look forward to reading everything on this list. That’s the great thing about friends who are writers, they really do live on in their works.

I hope that everyone reading this article will honor Mike by doing something in the next week to live his legacy:

  • Look for the strength and talent in a disenfranchised student
  • Encourage an adult with some credit but no degree to return to school
  • Encourage a so-called basic writer to write
  • Learn from someone outside your academic orbit
  • Show genuine kindness to a colleague

In the Jewish tradition, we say, “May his memory be a blessing.” Mike, thank you for the blessing you have given to everyone who knew you.

Elaine Maimon, PhD, is author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow Elaine Maimon on Twitter.


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