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Q&A with John Norberg

October 16th, 2019

We talked with celebrated writer, author, and humorist John Norberg about the second edition of Wings of Their Dreams: Purdue in Flight, his second book with Purdue University Press this year.

The second edition of Wings of Their Dreams continues and updates the story of an aeronautic odyssey of imagination, science, engineering, technology, adventure, courage, danger, and promise. It is the ever-evolving story of the human spirit taking flight, expanding Purdue’s legacy in aviation’s history.



Q: What originally inspired you to write Wings of Their Dreams?

John Norberg: I started working on it in 1999 as the 2003 centennial of flight approached. Purdue has a great history in flight and space and I thought the centennial of flight would be the perfect time to highlight it. There was no book where the stories of all our historical figures in flight and our astronauts were brought together in one place. As with several of the books I’ve written I talked about the idea with Joe Bennett, then vice president for university relation. This was before I started at Purdue in October of 2000. Joe liked the idea and took it to President Steve Beering who authorized it with financial support from the Purdue Research Foundation.


Book cover with the International Space station and earth in the foreground, and the Moon in the background

“Wings of Their Dreams: Purdue in Flight, Second Edition”

Q: Purdue is often referred to as the “cradle of astronauts”, what do you think are some of the main reasons Purdue has been so successful in producing astronauts?

Norberg: I have researched this and talked with all our astronauts about it. I’ve concluded there are five specific reasons we have so many astronauts.

  • Large and world class schools of engineering and science that attract people who want to become astronauts. NASA has a history of selecting people with engineering and science backgrounds as astronauts. In the early days being an engineer was required.
  • A university airport on the campus. Going back to our earliest astronauts, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Neil Armstrong, Eugene Cernan and Roger Chaffee, they had no idea about the future that awaited them. But they knew they liked to fly and the airport was a plus in attracting people interested first in aviation and later space flight. Many of our shuttle astronauts have also been pilots and they were interested in the University airport.
  • A large and outstanding ROTC program. Many astronauts used a military career path to be selected by NASA for space flight. A number of them become military test pilots. Some received ROTC scholarships or came to Purdue on Navy scholarships. The excellence of Purdue’s ROTC programs and the fact that the military was a good career track for become an astronaut attracted people to Purdue who were interested in flight and later space.
  • A master’s degree program in association with the Air Force Academy. In the 1960s one of the most selective programs at the Air Force Academy was a master’s degree program with Purdue. Only the top students were selected. They took some advanced courses at the Academy and upon graduation they came immediately to Purdue and began taking course during summer terms, and there were three of them. With a heavy course load in the fall semester they were able to complete their master’s degree work in January. Seven men who went through this program became astronauts and credit Purdue with helping them succeed. One of the people who came to Purdue on the program became the Hero of the Hudson, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.
  • When Cernan and Chaffee became NASA astronauts in 1963, Purdue had four alumni selected for space missions and the total number of people in the space program was not large. Young people interested in space began to see Purdue as a great place to study to accomplish their goals. Purdue’s reputation as a school of astronauts became even stronger as more and more Boilermakers were selected for the program by NASA.


Q: What’s something you think that people may not know about Purdue’s history in flight?

Norberg: People are always interested in stories about Neil Armstrong and the first landing on the moon. It’s in the book. I also wanted to give readers surprises, stories they didn’t know about. Most people don’t know that a Purdue alumnus worked with the Wright Brothers in the earliest days of flight. They don’t know Purdue graduates taught flight to Billy Mitchell and Hap Arnold – icons in U.S. military. They don’t know one of the nation’s first test pilots was a Purdue graduate, that a Purdue graduate and Charles Lindbergh were involved in a mid-air crash, an incident that marked the first time two pilots parachuted to safety. They don’t know about a Purdue graduate who flew beneath a balloon to the stratosphere. The first pilot to be called “Mr. Space” when there were no astronauts was a Purdue alumnus. The second person to break the sound barrier studied at Purdue (and some say he was the first). There is much more. Wings tells the history of flight and space through the stories of Purdue graduates. I think people will also be surprised that some astronauts apply four or five times before being selected. It is very competitive. The man who assigned astronauts to flights says Grissom would probably have been the first person on the moon, had he survived.


John Norberg


Q: What was the thing that surprised you most when you did the research for this book?

Norberg: If I tell all the surprises they won’t be surprises. The most pleasant surprise was that Neil Armstrong agreed to let me interview him for the book, something he rarely did. It was before Jim Hansen released his excellent biography of Neil, First Man but they were working on it. When I finished Neil’s chapters I sent them to him for accuracy review. He responded that the chapters were good, but he thought they were “about one-third too much me.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. So, I took quotation marks off some of his statements and paraphrased them. I sent it back and he said it was perfect. Shortly after Wings was published, Purdue held an event at the Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Neil was there and spoke. He started telling stories about pilots in Purdue’s history. The first one I recognized as someone in the book. Then there was a second and third. It finally dawned on me that he was repeating the stories from the book. I sent him a copy of the book and he had read it. That surprised me. At the end of his talk he said “All these stories are from John Norberg’s book Wings of Their Dreams that I heartily recommend.” I thanked Neil after he spoke. Someone came up to me and told me I needed to go to the table we were using to sell and sign books. There was a line of people waiting that stretched down the first floor of the museum. Neil wrote a statement for the cover of another book, Spacewalker, I wrote with Purdue astronaut Jerry Ross: “Spacewalker is the book for anyone who ever dreamed of flying in space.” There are many surprises in the stories about the people I wrote about in the book. I hope people enjoy them.


Q: What is new about the second edition of Wings of Their Dreams?

Norberg: Much has changed from 2003 to 2019. All the profiles and stories that were in the first book are in the second edition, but many of them have been updated. I interviewed all our living astronauts again (there are 24 associated with NASA and one commercial astronaut) and updated their information and thoughts. In addition to Grissom and Chaffee, who died in 1967, four other Purdue astronauts have died since 2003 – Janice Voss, Armstrong, Cernan, and Don Williams. I updated those stories. I added profiles on two additional astronauts since 2003. I also added a chapter on Sullenberger’s 2009 landing of a commercial airplane on the Hudson River, saving all the souls onboard.



You can get 30% off of Wings of Their Dreams by entering the discount code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.

Purdue University Press is offering 50% off all books in our Studies in Jewish Civilization series, including the most recent addition, Next Year in Jerusalem: Exile and Return in Jewish History edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon.

Next Year in Jerusalem recognizes that Jews have often experienced or imaged periods of exile and return in their long tradition, examining this phenomenon from different approaches, genres, and media.

The volumes in our Studies in Jewish Civilization series, edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon, are based on presentations made at the annual symposium of the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, sponsored by Creighton University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and University of Nebraska at Omaha. Each collection explores a different topic in Jewish history and culture worldwide that continues to be of interest today. Jargon-free, unbiased, and inherently interdisciplinary, every chapter is accessible, authoritative, and meant for scholars and laypeople alike.

Get 50% the books when you order off of our website and use the discount code SJC50. The sale will continue until the end of the year.


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We talked with James R. Hansen, Neil Armstrong’s authorized biographer, about his new book with Purdue University Press Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind.

Dear Neil Armstrong publishes a careful sampling—roughly 400—of the thousands of letters sent to Neil Armstrong from the day of the moon landing to the day of his passing, reflecting the various kinds of correspondence that Armstrong received along with representative samples of his replies.



Q: You’ve already written First Man, the definitive authorized account of Neil Armstrong, what motivated you to take on this new project?

James R. Hansen: I find not just the biography but even more the iconography of the First Man on the Moon endlessly fascinating. “Definitive” is relative. There’s always more to know, to learn, to discover. For First Man, I did not have total access to Neil’s correspondence. For the past four or five years I did have access, in the Purdue Archives, and, as a result, I have a lot more to share with the world about Armstrong.


Q: What do you think is the most commonly misunderstood thing about Neil Armstrong, and how could looking through these letters remedy that misunderstanding?

cover of the book Dear Neil, the title is written on a stack of letters

“Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind” by James R. Hansen


Hansen: That he was ultra-private, closed off, a near-recluse. The letters show that Neil was not any of those things, not at all. He was very engaged in the world around him, though he had his own particular ways and standards of how he would engage with society and culture.


Q: There are some 75,000 letters stored in the Purdue University Archives and Special collections, what was it like paring it down to the roughly 400 that made it into the book?

Hansen: It was very hard to keep my selection of letters to that size, because almost every letter to Neil, and every reply from him, offered interesting new insights into who he was, and even more so into who we were, in terms of what we thought about our hero and what we wanted from him.


Q: Was there any overarching theme or trend in the letters that surprised you most?

Hansen: Nothing in the letters made me change my basic understanding of Armstrong. What they did, however, is add depth, richness, and resonance to everything I had already come to understand about his as a person and as an icon.


Q: Were there any letters that didn’t make it in the book that still stick out to you?

Hansen: I tried very hard to include all the letters that stuck out to me! Some of the truly crazy letters that were written to him, which included some threatening letters from stalkers and other disturbed individuals, I chose not to include: letters from people in mental asylums, criminal penitentiaries, or people who should have been. Some of the letters were so disturbing that I did not want to present them in the book.


Q: What do you most hope to accomplish with this book?

Hansen: Foremost, I hope people today and forevermore will understand and appreciate Neil Armstrong not just as a global icon but a flesh-and-blood three-dimensional human being, with faults, defects, and limitations, just like all the rest of us. But I also hope the reader stops from time to time to think, “Shame on us.” Shame on us for not being more considerate for the situation of our celebrities and great public figures. Day in and day out, we just ask way too much of them.



You can order Dear Neil Armstrong now, and get 30% off when using the discount code PURDUE30 on the Purdue University Press website.

Benefits of Open AccessPurdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies will kick off International Open Access Week (October 21-27) with the announcement of the Leadership in Open Access Award from Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies (PULSIS) and Purdue University Office of the Provost.

During the week, PULSIS and the Purdue University Press (PUP) will also host a panel discussion, three Open Access information installations on campus, and an Open Access content campaign via the PULSIS website and PULSIS and PUP social media.

From 10:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Oct. 22 PULSIS and PUP are sponsoring the panel discussion, “What Open Access Means to You.” Purdue University Press Director Justin Race will serve as moderator of the panel discussion, which will be held in Stewart Center, room 202. Panelists include:

  • Kris Bross, associate dean for research and creative endeavors, Purdue Honors College;
  • Gaurav Chopra, assistant professor, Purdue Department of Chemistry;
  • Michael Witt, interim associate dean for research, associate professor, and head of the Distributed Data Curation Center, PULSIS; and
  • Wayne Wright, Barbara I. Cook Chair of Literacy and Language and associate dean for research, graduate programs, and faculty development, Purdue College of Education.

Leadership Award and Information Installations

According to Dean of Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies Beth McNeil, the Leadership in Open Access Award recognizes an individual (or individuals) at Purdue University who make an exceptional commitment to broadening the reach of scholarship by making publicly funded research freely accessible online through Purdue e-Pubs repository.

What Is Purdue e-Pubs?In addition, Scholarly Publishing Specialist Nina Collins will be available via three Open Access “information installations” on campus that week, including:

  • 1-4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, Horticulture Building (HORT), room 217;
  • 9 a.m.-noon Wednesday, Oct. 23, Knoy Hall of Technology (KNOY), KNOY Lobby; and
  • noon-3 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 24, Mechanical Engineering, Railside Station area.

The PULSIS and PUP content campaign will feature blog and social media posts about the benefits of Open Access. Blog post authors include:

  • Darcy Bullock, Lyles Family Professor of Civil Engineering and Director of the Joint Transportation Research Program;
  • Sandi Caldrone, data repository outreach specialist, Purdue University Research Repository (PURR);
  • Erla Heyns, head, Humanities, Social Science, Education, and Business (HSSEB) Division and associate professor, PULSIS;
  • Senay Purzer, director of assessment research at the INSPIRE Institute for Pre-college Engineering Research and associate professor, School of Engineering; and
  • Beth McNeil, dean, PULSIS.

For more information, contact Collins at nkcollin@purdue.edu.

About Open Access Week

Open Access Week, a global event now entering its eleventh year, is an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they have learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research. Learn more about Open Access Week at www.openaccessweek.org.

From highlighting the Midwest’s rich agricultural history, to celebrating it’s natural beauty, Purdue University Press publishes books that give an oft-overlooked part of the country a deserving look.

Check out select titles below, and get 30% off when you order directly from our website using discount code PURDUE30.



Memories of Life on the Farm: Through the Lens of Pioneer Photographer J. C. Allen


Frederick Whitford and Neal Harmeyer

The front cover of a book, a small boy holding a puppy is pictured

Memories of Life on the Farm


Purdue University Press’s newest book in Agriculture, Memories of Life on the Farm gives readers a look at early 20th century Indiana agriculture, its people, and communities through the photography of John Calvin Allen.

Allen’s photographs also document clothing styles, home furnishings, and the items people thought important as they went about their daily lives. Looking closely at tractors, livestock, wagons, planters, sprayers harvesting equipment, and crops gives one a sense of the changing and fast-paced world of agriculture at that time. This volume contains over 900 picturesque images, most never-before-seen, of men, women, and children working on the farm, which remain powerful reminders of life in rural America at the turn of the twentieth century.

If you like this book you may also be interested in Enriching the Hoosier Farm Family: A Photo History of Indiana’s Early County Extension Agents.


Scattering the Seeds of Knowledge: The Words and Works of Indiana’s
Pioneer County Extension Agents

Frederick Whitford


Scattering the Seeds of Knowledge chronicles the tales of the first county Extension agents, from 1912 to 1939. Their story brings readers back to a day when Extension was little more than words on paper, when county agents traveled the muddy back roads, stopping at each farm, introducing themselves to the farmer and his family.

Their story is a history lesson on what agriculture was like at the turn of the twentieth century, and a lesson to us all about how patient outreach and dedicated engagement—backed by proven science from university research—reshaped and modernized Indiana agriculture.

Learn more about Fred Whitford and his other books for Purdue University Press. 


A Place Called Turkey Run: A Celebration of Indiana Second State Park in Photographs and Words


Daniel P. Shepardson


A Place Called Turkey Run captures the majesty and mystique of Indiana’s second state park in text and hundreds of full-color images.

This book is published to honor the natural heritage of the land it describes, in celebration of Turkey Run’s hundredth anniversary as an Indiana State Park.

If you’re interested in this book, you may be interested in Photographing Turkey Run: A Guide to Nature Photography, which contains tips and techniques designed to provide a basic understanding of how to photograph nature and improve one’s photography skills.


American Agriculture; revised edition: A Brief History

R. Douglas Hurt


This brief history of American agriculture, from the prehistoric period through the twentieth century, is written for anyone coming to this subject for the first time.

The author offers a provocative look at a history that has been shaped by the best and worst of human nature, and provides the background essential for understanding the complexity of American agricultural history, from the transition to commercial agriculture during the colonial period to the failure of government policy following World War II.



 Other titles:

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We talked with Alla Ivanchikova to discuss the author’s upcoming book, contemporary cultural production on Afghanistan, and the way this cultural production serves as a litmus test for a producer’s political and geopolitical beliefs.

Ivanchikova’s book, Imagining Afghanistan: Global Fiction and Film of the 9/11 Warsexamines how Afghanistan has been imagined in literary and visual texts that were published after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent U.S.-led invasion.



Q: Could you give a brief description of your book?

Alla Ivanchikova: The two decades of the 9/11 wars have seen a production of thousands of titles on Afghanistan, and the book tries to make sense of what has transpired in this corpus of works. I argue that Afghanistan serves as a mirror upon which contemporary cultural producers project their values and beliefs, as well as their presumptions and biases.


Alla Ivanchikova (photo provided by author)

Q: What are some of the most common ways this projection manifests?

Ivanchikova: The most obvious one is the belief in benevolent humanitarianism. Since the end of the Cold War, humanitarianism has become the only mode through which we were able to imagine relating to distant others and to their suffering. It was a direct consequence of the collapse of the socialist bloc. Humanitarianism replaced the relation of comradeship or solidarity as being on the same side of a common struggle, which defined the era of anticolonial liberation movements, of which many were left-leaning. Afghanistan is a case study in the humanitarian imaginary: the two cultural products that came to stand for Afghanistan are the Afghan Girl from the National Geographic cover and Khaled Hosseini’s bestseller The Kite Runner. Both give us striking, unforgettable images of suffering children on behalf of which we are compelled to intervene. The less obvious way in which this projection manifests is the anticommunist imaginary, still pervasive in the NATO-centric contexts and my book unpacks the distortions and mirages it creates.


Q: In the introduction to the book, you reference Afghanistan being referred to as a “dim object” prior to the 9/11 attacks. More specifically, “it emitted no light, attracted no attention, and the eyes of the world were not on it”. Do you think this absence of a cultural presence made it easier for these post 9/11 cultural producers to project Afghanistan in their own light?

Ivanchikova: Afghanistan’s cultural invisibility between 1989 (Soviet withdrawal) and 2001 reflects how cultural production is tied to geopolitics. The era between 1989-2001 was one when the Afghan state suffered a complete collapse and people’s suffering was the most intense, but hardly any works have been produced during this time period. So it’s not the intensity of suffering that determines the production of humanitarian images, but geopolitics, and humanitarian images and stories are used, again and again, to justify military interventions. You are right, however, in suggesting that after 2001, there was a sense that Afghanistan was somehow “rediscovered,” and was an unmapped territory. This resonated with many writers who were invested in neo-imperial fantasies of “wild” Afghanistan.


Q: What motivated you to take on this subject?

Ivanchikova: The conflict in Afghanistan spans the entire course of my life. I grew up in the USSR during the Soviet-Afghan war. My early adulthood in the US was dominated by the crisis of 9/11 and the foreign wars that followed. In both cases, the true nature of these conflicts has been largely withheld from the public. I wanted to investigate. As a cultural studies scholar, I did my investigation mostly through analyzing cultural texts—fiction, memoirs, graphic novels, and film. I discovered that Afghanistan poses very specific representational difficulties: whoever writes on it, has to struggle with how to articulate various aspects of its past: its socialist history, the invasion by the Soviet Union, the role of the US in the fuming the flames of the “Afghan” jihad, and the failures of the US-led intervention that followed the Taliban ouster. Immediately and inevitably, one finds herself in the domain of not only history, but ideology.


Ivanchikova’s new book “Imagining Afghanistan: Global Fiction and Film of the 9/11 Wars”


Q: So given the nature of Afghanistan, it’s very hard to cover while maintaining the appearance of being ideologically neutral, or without espousing some kind of ideology?

Ivanchikova: Yes, that’s correct. Afghanistan serves as a litmus test of a sort, either revealing your political and geopolitical positioning, or revealing your confusion as to how to position yourself. In my book, I don’t argue for objectivity, however, but insist on the value of having many different stories. Unfortunately, the first wave of writing and screening Afghanistan, between 2001 and 2009, produced texts that told only one type of a story—the story of Afghanistan as a relic of soviet barbarity, to be saved by the West’s helping hand. This was in line with the official US view, as articulated by Donald Rumsfeld, for example. There was particular investment in, and fascination with, the figure of the suffering Afghan woman.


Q: Why is this problematic?

Ivanchikova: It is important to remember that the crisis suffered by Afghan women was a direct consequence of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (a socialist state that championed women’s rights) being defeated by ultra-patriarchal radical Islamist groups supported by the Reagan administration. This is an uncomfortable story to tell in NATO-centric contexts, because instead of making the reader/spectator feel good about liberating Afghan women, it implicates them into the very scene of crisis. So barely anyone wants to tell this story. But these stories needs to be told for any work of transnational reconciliation to begin. The other story that needs to be told is one of the Afghan effort to build socialism. Afghanistan suffers from the same problem that affects the entirely of the former second world: the absence of a language in which to talk about the defeated socialist projects in the aftermath of the Cold War’s end. We need more stories that bring into view the Afghan revolutionary subject—women and men who dreamt of and fought for economic and social equality and fought for the revolution rather than against it. We have tons of books that romanticize anti-statist (patriarchal) insurgency in Afghanistan—men who fought against communists. How many stories do we have that feature Afghan revolutionary women? Almost none. Ultimately, it is this very erasure of Afghan revolutionary history that results in a humanitarian capture of Afghanistan’s present.


Q: Where do you feel a person would find the most accurate representation of Afghanistan in contemporary culture?

Ivanchikova: I especially like Nadeem Aslam’s work as he tries to unpack the multiple layers of Afghan history present simultaneously in a landscape, like a palimpsest. In my book, I talk about his two novels: The Wasted Vigil and The Blind Man’s Garden. I also recommend Qais Akbar Omar’s memoir, In a Fort of Nine Towers. It is a very accessible, didactic work by a survivor of the civil war era—precisely the era during which Afghanistan became a dim object. It has particular relevance for the current moment: by describing what it meant to have lived through the destruction of Kabul as it was captured by the warring jihadist groups in 1992, the memoir gives us a glimpse into what it means to have survived the sieges of Fallujah, Mosul, Palmira, Raqqa, or Aleppo in the twenty-first century.



Get 30% off Imagining Afghanistan when you order through our website and use the discount code PURDUE30.

This is a guest post by Jeff Frank, author of Teaching in the Now: John Dewey on the Educational Present.

This commentary offers insights from John Dewey about how to approach the start of the school year so that students are prepared to do the type of work we hope they will do in the future. The meaning of preparation is central to Dewey’s philosophy of education, and this commentary aims to make his thinking available to teaching and teachers.


John Dewey hoped anyone concerned with education would regularly ask what appears to be a simple question. What is the meaning of preparation?

The question appears simple, because we are often told, as students, that we are doing something in order to be prepared for something in the future. Why do we learn addition? So we can do multiplication in the future. Why do we learn multiplication? So we are prepared for upper-level math.

At almost every stage of education, when a student asks why they are learning something, they are told that they are learning that thing so that they are prepared to do some other thing in the future.

In some ways, this way of justifying education makes sense. It is hard to do an advanced skill without the requisite background knowledge, understanding and skill. And yet, Dewey wants us to wonder if there are better ways to think about preparation. He wants us to think about the hidden costs of justifying a student’s present learning in terms of future gain.

One way of seeing Dewey’s point is to think about how teaching works when we are adults. To take a simple example, when we want a friend to like something that we care about, we generally don’t tell them they have to do a lot of preparation work to get there. If we want them to enjoy hiking—for example—we find the easiest hike with the biggest payoff. If we want them to enjoy cooking, we find a recipe they can cook and that will surprise them by its deliciousness.

Dewey wonders if school can approximate this way of teaching, at least some of the time.

As a college professor and former high school English teacher, I work hard to find readings that are immediately interesting to students and that are challenging enough to allow them to do more difficult reading in the future. Instead of seeing the beginning of the semester as merely preparatory for a later point in the semester or a course further along in their college study, I believe—with Dewey—that the best way to prepare a student to do good work in the future is to let them begin doing that work now, in whatever form they can.

This is most certainly not to say that everything a student does in class needs to be fun or easy. Rather, Dewey wants us to be honest, asking ourselves the hard question: Is my classroom, in this very moment, actually preparing my students for more effective and engaged work in the future?

Here is another way of looking at the problem. If a student is so disengaged by their experience learning a subject that they want nothing to do with it again in the future, can we actually claim that they were being prepared in that classroom? Even if a student was successful in terms of getting a good grade in the class, if they aren’t interested in learning more about the subject in the future, can we say that they’ve received a good preparation?

It is easy to dismiss Dewey’s vision of teaching as asking too much of schools and teachers, but before dismissing his thinking on the educational present out of hand, I just want us to think about small changes we can make to invite our students into our subject. If our students were adults who we didn’t have the power of grades and discipline over, how would we teach our subject? If we really want each of our students to keep engaged with our subject into the future, how would we teach?

These are the types of questions Dewey would have us ask, and these are questions that are worth asking again at the start of this school year.

Before the rush of the school year begins, we might take the time to think about the students we see leaving the classroom at the end of the year. What are they passionate about, and what are they empowered to do?

With this vision in mind, think about how to get them there. If Dewey is right, we don’t have engaged confident learners leaving our classrooms if they’ve never experienced engaging learning experiences that give them confidence. And he would encourage us to think about how we can create this type of present for students, from the first day.

Too often the first days of school feel like re-learning what it means to wait until something interesting may happen. We should work to break this habit of waiting and introduce something interesting early. Make the first days an invitation to do meaningful work in the present instead of sending the message that meaningful work must always wait.

“Make the first days an invitation to do meaningful work in the present instead of sending the message that meaningful work must always wait.”

We went into teaching to share our passionate interest in learning with students, and we shouldn’t wait to do this work. Give yourself permission to live in the fullness of the present with your students from the start of the school year, trusting Dewey’s insight that this is also an effective and engaging way to prepare students to live more fully in the future.

School leaders and policymakers are invited to do the same type of thinking. Much of the work that is justified in the name of preparation does not prepare students for a future of deeper engagement with the material they are learning in schools. At the start of the school year, we can do more to create an educational present that prepares students for good work in the future because they are doing good work now.


Jeff Frank is an Associate Professor at St. Lawrence University and author of the book Teaching in the Now: John Dewey on the Educational Present. His work has appeared in the Teachers College Record, Educational Researcher, and several philosophy of education journals.

You can get 30% off Teaching in the Now by entering the discount code PURDUE30 when you order from our website.


In preparation for his forthcoming title Teaching in the Now: John Dewey on the Educational Present, we briefly talked to author Jeff Frank about the book, what motivated him to write it, and the reason for advocating for John Dewey’s work in the modern educational landscape.



Q: Could you briefly explain your book, for those who are not familiar?

Jeff Frank: I wrote this book out of appreciation for John Dewey’s thinking on how to create a meaningful educational present for students. Too often, we treat the present as mere preparation to do something rewarding or interesting in the future. When we do this, we lose student interest and engagement. Dewey argues that the best preparation for a meaningful future is learning to live meaningfully in the present.


Q: What prompted you to write Teaching in the Now, and what do you hope to accomplish with the book?

Frank: I wrote this book for two main reasons. First, I worry that we don’t do enough to value the present moment. Schooling can be tremendously interesting, but it loses its interest when we defer meaningful work to the future. Second, I wrote this book for students new to Dewey’s work in the hopes of showing them why they should take him seriously. Though his work may initially appear difficult, I wrote this book in the hopes that it might make it easier to stick with Dewey.

Jeff Frank


Q: What is it that motivates you to advocate for Dewey’s work in such a purposeful way?

Frank: A major motivation for this project is a sense of hope. John Dewey believed that each one of us harbor deep potential, and he also believed that activating that potential was one way to ensure the future of a strong democracy in the United States. My belief, one I share with Dewey, is that we need to do everything we can to make each moment in the classroom as engaging and rewarding as possible for students. Doing this is not only good for students, it is also good for our democracy. By helping students realize their potential in the present moment, we are helping to bring about a better future. My book is meant to aid teachers as they create these types of experiences for their students.


Q: You mention some treating the present as “mere preparation to do something rewarding or interesting in the future”. How do you feel this mentality come about? How have you seen it manifest?

Frank: In many ways, this is the key point. Dewey believes in the importance of thinking about how we acquire habits and what these habits make possible or foreclose. When it comes to “mere preparation,” Dewey might think about the habit many of us get into where we think things like: Once I have X job I will be happy, or Once I have X amount of money I will be happy, or Once I have tenure, or my own classroom I will begin doing the things I truly want to do. For Dewey, we should begin living the life we aspire to, as much as possible, in the present moment. For a teacher, this means trying to create the most engaging environment for students we can, in the present moment, not deferring until ideal conditions are met.

This brings up a related point. Someone may wonder: But aren’t there just some things we just have to learn? To this, I have two responses. First, I coached three sports in addition to teaching high school English, and there are indeed things one must learn before doing more advanced work. For example, if you don’t know how to spin correctly in the discus circle, there is no way to throw as effectively as possible. But there are ways to make the learning how to spin more or less engaging. The same holds true in the classroom Robert Frost, an excellent teacher himself, noted that explaining a joke doesn’t make it funny. The same is true with a poem. Spending time explaining why a poem is interesting in preparation for helping a student enjoy a poem is often counterproductive. A teacher should look for poems that are appropriately challenging and that they think students will actually find interesting, thereby giving students the most meaningful experience of learning in the present.

My second point is this. When we are learning how to do things outside of a school setting, how do we learn best? How do we prepare to cook or ski or develop a passion for music or movies? While some people may spend hours reading about skiing or testing skis out off of the slopes, more often than not we try things out. This experimenting allows us to see what we need to learn in order to improve, and this leads us to develop a passion for figuring things out so that we can make progress.  Or to ask another question, when you want to share your passion with a friend, how do you do it? Do you make them do a lot of preparatory work, or do you try to use your pedagogical creativity so that the first experience your friend has with what you are passionate about makes them want to learn more and engage more deeply with that passion? Dewey would argue that we can approach teaching this way, seeing the goal of teaching as creating the type of present that makes students want to learn more. Far from leaving students unprepared, these are the experiences that instill habits of thinking and acting that make students more able to engage more deeply with their learning in the future.


Q: How would you explain the importance of your book, and your field as a whole, to a lay audience?

Frank: This book is important because it helps teachers and future teachers think about how to create an engaging and educative present for their students. It also makes Dewey’s work more accessible. Anyone who teaches Dewey’s Experience and Education or anyone reading Dewey’s educational philosophy for the first time will—I hope—find something of interest in my book.



Get 30% off your own copy of Teaching in the Now by ordering it from our website with the discount code PURDUE30.

Purdue University Press is proud to publish books that highlight the numerous important relationships between humans and animals.

Published in collaboration with Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and series editors Alan Beck and Maggie O’Haire, our New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond series, seeks to expand our knowledge of the human-animal bond. The series welcomes submissions covering all aspects of human-animal interaction and welfare, including therapy applications, public policy, and the application of humane ethics in managing our living resources.

You can access the series in its entirety on our website. Below is a selection of some of our recent titles.



Transforming Trauma: Resilience and Healing Through Our Connections with Animals


Edited by Philip Tedeschi and Molly Anne Jenkins


International experts in the fields of trauma and human-animal connection examine how our relationships with animals can help build resiliency and foster healing to transform trauma. A myriad of animal species and roles, including companion, therapy, and service animals are discussed.

“Tedeschi and Jenkins have produced the go-to sourcebook on the role of animal-assisted interventions for children and adults coping with the debilitating effects of psychological trauma. With diverse and engaging contributions from international experts in the field, Transforming Trauma fills an important gap in the AAI/anthrozoology literature, and it does so with considerable insight and compassion, not only for the human victims of trauma, but also for the animals who help them on the road to recovery.”

— James A Serpell, Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine


Check out a free preview of the book.


A Reason to Live: HIV and Animal Companions


by Vicki Hutton


A Reason to Live explores the human-animal relationship through the narratives of eleven people living with HIV and their animal companions. The narratives, based on a series of interviews with HIV-positive individuals and their animal companions in Australia, span the entirety of the HIV epidemic, from public awareness and discrimination in the 1980s and 1990s to survival and hope in the twenty-first century.

“Vicki Hutton captures the healing power of human-animal bond through personal stories of survivors of the AIDS pandemic. During a time of stigma and self-hatred, and before effective therapies, animal companionship was the most powerful medicine available and is still effective today. Furry, feathered and scaled creatures saved many lives and brought a positive face to the pandemic. The author captures the historical threads of a darker time and brings light to the importance of animals in our lives.”

— Ken Gorczyca, DVM, Founding Veterinarian of Pets Are Wonderful Support, San Francisco


Check out a free preview of the book and an interview with the author.



That Sheep May Safely Graze: Rebuilding Animal Health Care in War-Torn Afghanistan


by David Sherman


Author David Sherman details a determined effort, in the midst of war, to bring essential veterinary services to an agrarian society that depends day in and day out on the well-being and productivity of its animals, but which, because of decades of war and the disintegration of civil society, had no reliable access to even the most basic animal health care.

“There are literally billions of animals (cows, sheep, goats, etc.) that often represent the only assets extremely poor rural families depend on for income, nutrition, status, power, fiber, fertilizer, fuel, and more. One of the major challenges facing these farmers and herders is the health of their animals. Paraveterinary (extension and clinical service) networks are often discussed but rarely well-established on any kind of sustainable and self-reliant basis. That Sheep May Safely Graze is an extraordinary story of success in building community-led, community-supported, and accountable networks of paravets who are protecting and enhancing the value of the livestock in Afghanistan. Their lessons learned are relevant to all of us engaged in livestock management, and it makes for a captivating and engrossing book on how things can get done when it matters to people.”

— Pierre Ferrari, President and Chief Executive Officer, Heifer International


Check out a free preview of the book and an interview with the author.



Animal-Assisted Interventions in Health Care Settings: A Best Practices
Manual for Establishing New Programs


by Sandra B. Barker, Rebecca A. Vokes, and Randolph T. Barker


Animal-Assisted Interventions in Health Care Settings: A Best Practices Manual for Establishing New Programs succinctly outlines how best to develop, implement, run, and evaluate AAI programs. The text explores benefits from a variety of perspectives, including how AAI can improve patient experience, provide additional career development for staff, and contribute favorably to organizational culture as well as to the reputation of the facility in the surrounding community.

“Barker, Vokes, and Barker’s book is a true gem! As a leading researcher and practitioner in the field of AAI, Barker and her colleagues have assembled a book that is rich in theory and practice. The pages are filled with best practice advice from seasoned practitioners who are not only aware of how to develop reliable and safe AA interventions for patients, but also strategies to preserve animal welfare. This is a must-read book for all professionals working in health care settings!”

— Aubrey H. Fine, Professor Emeritus- California Polytechnic University, and author of Afternoons with Puppy and the Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy

Check out a free preview of the book.


Other Recent Titles:

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Use discount code PURDUE30 to get 30% any book in this series on our website.


From July 18-20, Purdue University will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing with a variety of campus events, including a talk by Apollo 11 flight director Gene Kranz, a showing of a new “Armstrong” documentary, and a book signing/meet and greet with Purdue University Press authors.

Purdue University Press is proud to publish in space and flight with our book series, Purdue Studies in Aeronautics and Astronautics edited by James R. Hansen. Our books build on Purdue’s leadership in aeronautic and astronautic engineering, as well as the historic accomplishments of many of Purdue’s luminary alums.

The stories that can be told in connection with Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon are innumerable. Stories of those who sacrificed it all for us to get there, stories of the men and women working behind the scenes, and stories of the men and women inspired by the moon landing, continuing to their own “giant leaps”. Read on to hear more about these stories.



Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom

by George Leopold

On January 27, 1967, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives in a fire during a launch pad test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft.

Gus Grissom, a Purdue University alumnus and one of the “Mercury Seven”, was a fixture of the early Space Race. There was a point in time when many thought NASA would eventually select Grissom as the first man to walk on the moon. Most now remember him for the tragedy that took his life.

“One of the cruel ironies, the central paradox of the Space Race, was that a launch pad fire actually saved the Apollo program,” notes George Leopold, Gus Grissom’s biographer, in a blog post earlier this year. “The reason was the evidence of what had been overlooked in Grissom’s ship—the faulty wiring, the leaking coolant, the lack of flame-retardant materials in the spacecraft, the clumsy, inward-opening hatch, and most important of all, NASA’s misguided engineering decision to use pure oxygen under pressure on the launch pad—all of it was there for the investigators to sift through.”

What NASA was able to learn from this tragedy helped lay the groundwork for the missions that put men on the moon.



Piercing the Horizon: The Story of Visionary NASA Chief Tom Paine

cover of Piercing the Horizon, a rocket during takeoffby Sunny Tsiao

Tom Paine was the administrator of NASA when man took their first steps on the lunar surface on the Apollo 11 mission.

Named acting administrator on October 8, 1968, and confirmed by the Senate as administrator on March 20, 1969, he was tasked with getting the program back on track following the Apollo 1 disaster, and stewarded the program through the first seven manned Apollo missions.

In the Foreword of Piercing the Horizon, James R. Hansen calls Paine “one of America’s greatest spaceflight visionaries”.




Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer

by Jerry L. Ross with John Norberg

“On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 launched toward the Moon to attempt the first manned lunar landing. I read everything I could get my hands on about the mission. Any time there was information about the mission on TV, and I wasn’t working, I was there. I didn’t care if the coverage was just a shot of Mission control in Houston with no one talking. I loved what they were doing, how they were doing it, the suspense, and the technology.”

Jerry Ross, a Purdue University alumnus and Indiana native, shares the record for most spaceflights. Ross spent 1,393 hours in space, including 58 hours and 18 minutes on nine space walks.

Ross was a student at Purdue when he was inspired by Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Ross collaborated with Susan G. Gunderson to write an illustrated children’s version of his biography called Becoming a Spacewalker: My Journey to the Stars.



Wings of Their Dreams: Purdue in Flight, Second Edition

by John Norberg

“Every day you’re reminded that not only did Neil Armstrong walk these paths around Purdue, going to class every day, but so did Gus (Grissom), and so did a whole lot of others.”

Often referred to as “the cradle of astronauts”, Purdue University is inseparable with the history of manned spaceflight.

Wings of Their Dreams is the story of the human spirit taking flight, entwined with Purdue’s legacy in aviation’s history and its horizons. Author John Norberg reminds readers that the first and last men to land on the moon first trekked across the West Lafayette, Indiana campus on their journeys into the heavens and history.

Second Edition out October 15, 2019



Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind

by James R. Hansen

Today, some 75,000 letters written to Neil Armstrong are preserved in the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.

Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind publishes a careful sampling of these letters—roughly 400—reflecting the various kinds of correspondence that Armstrong received along with representative samples of his replies.

Out October 15, 2019




Get 30% off any of these books when you order through the Purdue University Press website with the discount code PURDUE30.