College Bound

The Pursuit of Education in Jewish American Literature, 1896-1944

By Dan Shiffman

Subjects: Jewish Studies, Literary Criticism, Literature, American Culture, American Studies
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Literature and Culture
Paperback : 9781438467221, 224 pages, July 2018
Hardcover : 9781438467238, 224 pages, November 2017

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Table of contents


Success Narratives?
1. The Halo of Higher Learning in the Work of Abraham Cahan

2. A Reprieve at Best: Education in the Writing of Mary Antin and Elizabeth G. Stern

3. Anzia Yezierska’s Frustrated Pursuit of Education

4. M. E. Ravage, Ludwig Lewisohn, and Lionel Trilling: Education at the “Real American” University

5. The Hidden Curriculum in Leo Rosten’s H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N Stories
A Space Apart

Works Cited

Argues that first- and second-generation Jewish American writers had an ambivalent relationship with educational success.


Jewish American immigrants and their children have been stereotyped as exceptional educational achievers, with attendance at prestigious universities leading directly to professional success. In College Bound, Dan Shiffman uses literary accounts to show that American Jews' relationship with education was in fact far more complex. Jews expected book learning to bring personal fulfillment and self-transformation, but the reality of public schools and universities often fell short. Shiffman examines a wide range of novels and autobiographies by first- and second-generation writers, including Abraham Cahan, Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierska, Elizabeth Gertrude Stern, Ludwig Lewisohn, Marcus Eli Ravage, Lionel Trilling, and Leo Rosten. Their visions of learning as a process of critical questioning—enlivening the mind, interrogating cultural standards, and confronting social injustices—present a valuable challenge to today's emphasis on narrowly measurable outcomes of student achievement.

Dan Shiffman teaches Secondary English at the International School of Hamburg and is the author of Rooting Multiculturalism: The Work of Louis Adamic.


"…detailed and meticulously researched…" — The Year's Work in English Studies

"This is a rich, well-researched, and compelling study that displays a mastery of its authors and texts, as well as the relevant scholarly studies. It presents its findings in fluent, readable prose. " — Eric Sundquist, Johns Hopkins University

"Shiffman makes an important and timely contribution to the field of American Jewish studies, especially involving the place of education at the turn of the twentieth century and into the war years. " — Victoria Aarons, Trinity University