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Margaret O'Brien Steinfels

Adult Education

Why we need journals of opinion

One of the more dramatic stories of my childhood concerned a magazine and the bargain my mother struck that made her a lifelong subscriber. Toward the end of the war—World War II, that is—a draft notice arrived for my father. Since he worked in a war-related industry and was the only support of my blind grandmother, his wife, and three daughters, he had long been deferred. Now a notice. While he appealed to the draft board, my mother promised God (or maybe our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility) that if his appeal were upheld, she would give money to the first person who asked her.

My father was deferred. The next person to come to our door was a salesman from Extension, a magazine reporting on Catholic home missions in Dakota, Alaska, maybe Kentucky—out there, far, far from Chicago. When I left home at 22, my parents were still getting Extension, and as far as I know, they still are.

They and so too their children were magazine readers. Magazines were often fodder for the debates my father and I had throughout my high school and college years—race and the civil rights movement was the chief topic then. Some of those magazines were Catholic, some were not. Many of them were a font of information and opinion, which kept my parents alert to shifts in religion, politics, and the union movement. Even better, they gave me a lot to argue about with my father.

When I say, as I often do, that magazines, especially journals of opinion, are a critical and intense form of adult education, it is this childhood experience, then my experience as an adult, my husband's, my children's, the experience of my friends and neighbors, my colleagues, and even strangers on the train that I draw upon. Even my grandson when a year old ate up Commonweal, while he ripped up Information Age.

What do I mean by a critical and intense form of adult education? Information, Formation, Conversation, and Persuasion are what journals of opinion are all about, and inevitably they are directed to adults who are ...

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