My Personal Conceptualization of Allan Bloom’s the Closing of the American Mind, Essay Example
The educational curriculum has drastically decreased throughout the decades. Individual’s quest for knowledge has lost value based on meaningless requirements. The much debated writings of Allan Bloom in “The Closing of the American Mind” clearly addresses how far education has gone from its original context. With so many scholarly opinions readily available it makes it easy to guide students to a desired belief instead of allowing these students to think independently. Blooms work is an eye opening warning on the loss of intellectual pride and a student’s ability to determine their own personal self-discovery of thought opposed to a dictation on what a student should think.
Bloom proposes a change in the college curriculum. He believes that, “higher education has failed the democracy and impoverished the soul of today’s students.” The decline within the literary composition and educational standard is greatly hindering the educational experience. Bloom proposes that the solution for this may be as simple as re-invigorating the college curriculum. According to him, the solution is simple, to implement the original texts of “Great Books” bring college learning back to a new level in which it was intended. The “Great Books” are criticized by the Universities three great parts of Humanities, Social Science, and Natural Science. Integrating these literary requirements is important however he may be overestimating the effect that they will have on the overall college experience.
There is no way to belittle the importance of solid, intellectually sound literature. There still has to be more than to it. The professors need to have the knowledge to be able to present such work for student involvement. They have to set the standard to improve academic experience and hold the students to a whole new level of learning. Blooms belief in the “Great Books” is a great starting point. The need to get the college curriculum and expectation needs to change in order for higher education to not fail the democracy and impoverished the soul of today’s students.
Bloom addresses openness in his book in two different forms. One of the forms of openness actually can be equated to the closing of the mind. In order to agree or disagree with Bloom’s proposal, it is necessary to look at the openness of indifference. This is what can be considered as the humbling of intellectual pride within the student and the student body. Each individual has the option to be whatever it is the wish to be. For example some students may choose a desire for their own personal self-discover. They intend to make all of their undertakings of equal value. This will create the desire for students to leave their language requirements and move to study the philosophy of science. In this process it will trigger their amour-propre, which means esteem or self-love earned from others’ opinions. The openness of indifference is based on a moveable interpretation of documents by a moveable philosophy of “it all depends”. This will prevent the students doubt regarding things that obstruct progress.
Secondly, they have to have openness to their quest for knowledge and certitude. An example of this would be cultures and history. This suggestion would persuade students to want to learn from culture and history about what things are good for them and what will make them happy. It activates what can be called their amour-soi which is a healthy and natural esteem or self-love that comes from ones independence of others opinions. This openness will instill a secure Constitutional interpretation, that which is considered the government of laws. When one student is able to grasp a true openness, it means that there is a block to the charm in which one is comfortable with the present.
Bloom’s theory of amour-propre, which means esteem or self-love earned from others’ opinions and amour-soi which is a healthy and natural esteem or self-love that comes from ones independence of others opinions is very appropriate for colleges students. Student’s who lean towards the amour-propre will continually fail to think for themselves and continue to be a slave to the higher institution’s teachings. Amour-soi is the mentality that will allow these students to crave and learn on their own versus taking someone else’s opinion and accepting it as factual. There is no oversimplifying the fact that there are probably far more students who apply the amour-propre theory than the other one. It validates this portion of this writing with little room for disagreement.
The conceptualization of the “the Great Book” is based on the ideals of amour soi and amour proper of Rousseau. The relativism of self-esteem that is based on others opinions, which is essentially a poll-based self-esteem. This establishes the curriculum based on what is easy to understand and what is popular in current society. The conceptualization of this book is broken down into three parts. The initial part addresses the current status of colleges and universities. These students have turned their attention away from reading and have become occupied by sexual conquest and music. The second part is how European philosophy has incorporated itself with American philosophy which caused began the refutation of common concepts like truth and falsehood and good and evil. Lastly, Bloom discusses how this academic freedom has been ruined in the twentieth century.
My personal conceptualization of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, is a great book that should be read not only by college students but by all Americans. The majority of the contents are agreed with, because of its relevance. Perhaps the severity of certain parts is oversimplified, but for the most part he clearly shows the overall decline of higher education. It is clearly written what issues are obstructing the American academic system, primarily in the Universities and its overall effect on society as a hole. In order to be liberalized and have the option of freedom of thought, one would have to step away from all other’s opinions on these issues. The situations they are viewing must be independent in order to have freedom of mind. Forcing students to think outside of the norm will allow them to form their own opinions void of what society has deemed as the norm and has grown to embrace. If American students are continually being dictated on what is acceptable to believe there is not potential for real development. Original text is intended to implement self-esteem and independence that is not concerned with what others may believe. A big part of the educational experience is the ability to form such opinions from what is discovered in reputable sources. This importance is clearly presented and the writer has not under simplified this.
Bloom conceptualized the state of education through mediocre teaching and the student’s inability to take the presented material and personally form their own opinion of it. It can be assumed that Bloom feels education is on a rapid decline from what it once was previously. “Actually openness [Openness I] results in American conformism – out there in the rest of the world is a drab diversity that teaches only that values are relative, whereas here we can create all the life-styles we want. Our openness means we do not need others. Thus what is advertised as a great opening is a great closing. No longer is there a hope that there are great wise men in other places and times who can reveal the truth about life — except for the few remaining young people who look for a quick fix from a guru. . . . None of this concerns those who promote the new curriculum.” (Bloom) The idea that values in general are relative does not show the true lifestyle that students and American’s are working towards. It could be said that Bloom lacked qualifiers in this statement. He still attributes the decline of education to primarily curriculum which is not the case. The entire institute has lowered or changed their teaching requirements if the material is that easily replaced. The professors, deans, and entire higher education institution needs to be looked at in this situation.
The “Great Book” also discusses the openness to cultural and historical cultural texts and the materials in an unaltered context. Bloom’s feelings on the original text are important in his argument. The individual needs to be receptive to individual thought and not just accept the text at face value or what is understood at first glance. It is necessary to question the outlook of the ones they call experts in the textbook fields. Perhaps it is considered scholarly yet still superficial rehashes for the original texts. Using this internal and independent self-assessment is the only way that one can gain the esteem and self-love that occurs within oneself instead of what is gained from the opinions of others.
Again Mr. Bloom’s suggestion for college reinvigoration is to return to the original material and texts that has been utilized previously. Reading the most intellectual works without predicated translations allows students to form an opinion just on the works itself without any preconceived ideologies. Students should discover great value and a clear understanding that can only be achieved through directly confronting these authors in the original context that they were presented. This discovery will provide a way for students to learn in the future as well. It is not necessarily the number of books that are read, but what the student takes away from each one of them. This is only a part of the solution. The student’s ability to form opinions on the material is reflective of the education they are receiving in that same education. There are more parts that have to be implemented in order for Blooms assertions to hold the truth he is presenting the other factors must be utilized as well.
There is some essential permanent life or death question about the nature of reality that Bloom refers to. It has become apparent that American youth has been brought up to believe that everything that one believes is nothing more than a preference or an opinion not necessarily true. This question of cultural relativists is – is the non-judgmental attitude destroying the ability to think independently? Some views are learned and implied by others to be inferior or superior and creates a need for others to create new traditions. For example the lack of religions in the household and the child’s upbringing that would be shaped by a clear vision of what is true and good. Bloom states, “It was not necessarily the best of times in America when Catholic and Protestants were suspicious of and hated one another; but at least they were taking their beliefs seriously…” (Bloom) Pinpointing a time when people believed their own beliefs and acted on them instead of being easily persuaded to alternate understandings. It is impossible to not agree with Bloom on this point. Right or wrong, it is important for an individual to belief for their own reasons, this will give them the ground to fight for it when challenged.
Bloom highlights the deaths of culture are important to address because the need is clearly transparent. In the grand scope of thing, America’s future is only as strong as the youth that are growing into the role of dominating society. According to Nietzsche’s Post-Modern Identity, “the capacity to build a new future depends on our ability to see a fundamental continuity with the strengths of the past; the motive behind his essay is revealed through his further belief that ‘it is this which is lacking in Modernity, and which results in a lack of direction, an ignorance of where we have come from and of where we are going’.” (Ansell-Pearson) Direction is essentially to reach a desired destination. In the event we fail to realize where we have come from, we will blindly be walking in an unknown direction. Bloom may have understated the facts, in order to avoid ignorance one has to have the necessary mindset to see beyond it and make educated decision on their own knowledge. There is no way to not agree or see the need for our education systems to truly education, students have to be able to create their own knowledge.
Allan Blooms “Great Book” was never expected to be a best seller, but it contents challenges the entire education system that is currently practices in America. It is because the contents address a very important, very real issue in our higher educational system and society in its entirety. “Bloom’s book was at the center of a debate—one that had been percolating well before its publication in 1987—over the nature and content of a university education. That debate intensified with the growing numbers of ‘diverse’ populations seeking recognition on college campuses—concomitant with the rise of departments of Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, and a host of other ‘Studies” studies—leading to demands that the curriculum increasingly reflect contributions by non-male, non-white, non-European and even non-dead authors’.” (Daneen) Bloom’s book challenges not only education but diversity as well. Not necessarily based on race or beliefs, but on the ability to take a classroom full of different thoughts and discuss them.
The “Great Book” has had many supporters and individuals who disagree with Blooms findings. The ideas within the book, even though they are argued, still set an important standard for a thought process in students. “Such an education, says Nietzsche, promotes accumulation of knowledge of other times and places, without providing a direction. ’It is not a real education but a kind of knowledge about education, a complex of various thoughts and feelings about it, from which no decision about its direction can come.’ In healthier times, education in the best writings of the past is not for the sake of objective consideration, but ‘always has a reference to the end of life, and is under its absolute rule and direction’.” (Nietzsche). Studying scholars of a previous time may invite insight on a much diversified thought process, but it may not lay the ground work for education in modern day learning. This is an area where disagreement with Bloom’s finding needs to be addressed. There is a need for mixed educational curriculum, consisting of both works of the past and present. It diversifies the entire learning process.
The virtue of openness in today’s universities is very different than what it has been during different time periods. Bloom important concepts that he reiterates is the openness to knowledge and the openness to indifference. The openness to knowledge encourages students not to accept things that create a comfort in their current situation of life and educational pursuit. This is done when students willing strive to form their own opinions and thoughts without simply accepting the opinions dictated by the experts. By doing so, it will allow the students to earn the necessary skills to pursue whatever future career endeavor they may choose. Openness to knowledge is what motivates students to learn about cultural and historical events that are necessary for them. Essentially this will lead to the start of a healthy and strong self-esteem. It will also aid in the overall independence of the student and their concern of others opinions. Bloom believes that American society crisis was caused by the surfacing of relativism based on Americans thought process. This same relativism establishes a void in the souls of Americans, opening up room for radical advancements. This is similar to what happened with the German republic when the Nazis filled the gap that was formed by the Weimar Republic. This radical change led to a total degeneration in the education system from its current state. The freedom of thought has been engulfed from untrue philosophies categorized as the ideology of thought. The late 1980’s social movement that became active in society and universities is also criticized by Bloom. He understood this as society going against the classical and philosophical orientation that he believes in. University courses have since been introduced to reform to the demands in society for individuals who seek success but do not care about the important values that are truly necessary.
Blooms work is an eye opening warning on the loss of intellectual pride and a student’s ability to determine their own personal self-discovery of thought opposed to a dictation on what a student should think. There is no way to disagree with the importance and significance of his finding. There is a growing epidemic that is plaguing our higher educational institutions. This book sets important precedence for the entire learning system and the need for reform. Students are equipped with minds that are to be utilized for form their own thoughts and beliefs, and education are supposed to teach the groundwork for that. When learning shifted to memorization of others opinions, it essentially stripped students of their ability to think for themselves. Reverting back to education where a mind has to be actively involved in order for a student to find success with their learning journeys is a great place to start in a much need education reform.
Levine had a much different conceptualization on the state of education than that of Bloom’s. The contradiction has been drawn a lot of attention to both of their views. He proclaims that multicultural history in the higher education institution is relevant. He continues to argue that it is also scholarly and rigorous to incorporate multicultural history in university requirements. Levine also concludes that the traditional and expected outcome is provided by multicultural history because it dictates the evolution of the American society.
“The current emphasis on [multicultural] social and cultural history which so troubles contemporary critics is no more permanent than were past emphases on political, intellectual, economic, or diplomatic history…. It reflects, as earlier historiographies have reflected, the questions, problems, issues that touch our time and help us make sense of the world. It also reflects the fact that history today is written, as it has always been written, by human beings who are part of their own societies and cultures.” (Levine)
The stand that Levine takes is clearly contrary to Allan Bloom and Roger Kimball who is a critic of multicultural studies in the higher educational institutions. He is vocal about his devotion to his stand on the importance of this type of education. He believes in the need for multicultural studies and that depriving the higher educational institutes from this is depriving society of a much needed learning tool. The critics discussed earlier are guilty of weighted exaggerations and they need to be refuted and Levine does his part to do exactly that. Their growing popularity has given them an unnecessary influence over the importance in higher educational learning. Levine openly admits to his biases however backs them up with a professional thesis. When one has a strong belief in something, they tend to be bias, so Levine is acting according to his beliefs.
Within his arguments regarding the educational curriculum, he points out those critics of multicultural history have failed to provide relevant arguments against it. There is no way to refute the composition of society in general. He continues by pointing out that if a university were to eliminate Western Civilization as a required course it will not end the American academic tradition. It will essentially end a small period that occurred after World War II. Before the events of World War I, the college level requirements were Latin and Greek literature in its original text. The point he was arguing is that many American college students were not mandated to learn Chopin or Shakespeare. The question then lies, at what point did the curriculum change?
These multicultural historical requirements were also used to educate students of events that were about to come as well. The Wilson administration used material like “Barbarism” and “Enlightenment” to prepare the students for the war that the United States was about to enter into. The purpose of putting this material in the universities was to teach the students the causes of war and to embrace the achievements, principles and practices of this time period. Education is merely that, to teach students how to understand and conceptualize a completely different time period and events that they may have been naive to prior.
Levine continues his argument by showing the origins of multicultural may by more rigorous instead of less. Stanford’s educational structure has a multicultural emphasis and requires students to learn it as a part of their educational experience. These texts would include the Old and New Testaments, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Old Man Hat and many more of the same magnitude. He attacks the critics again by referring to them as professional slackers. “Of course the very expansiveness of the canon is disturbing to those who crave a universal literary or historical canon good always and everywhere, accessible to and accepted by everyone capable of understanding it. The admission that literature, history, and canons are more complex and more variable than that entails a loss of control.” (Levine)
In his argument, he validates multicultural studies by presenting it in a historical perspective. This is done by studying the curriculum of American universities as they evolved. The curricula always presented the American society and there was never a consensus on their form. It was not till the 1900’s that the cultural war hit the universities. This was the beginning when conservatives spoke about the collapse of the university because they were eliminating the cultivation of the intellect through the current studies. This is when the professors were accused of not providing an adequate education and were not properly arming the student for their life after college.
Levine addresses the critic’s argument that it is merely a political attempt of radicals who use universities as a way to spread the revolution through multicultural studies. He supports his disagreement by the paradigm that America is a multicultural society that academe has recognized and is trying to comprehend. He argues that the U.S. never was a “melting pot” where blacks and each succeeding immigrant wave totally sublimated their ancestral identities and cultures, and completely accepted “Anglo-conformity” (Levine). He believes that there is stamp of cultural pluralism in American society. This representation shows that the U.S. has unique as well as distinct cultures and identities that work together to define and contribute to the culture. As new groups emerge, they add to the collective contribution as well. Levine echoes the sentiments of a multicultural proponent who argued that “we cannot think of culture [a single American one] unless we think of many cultures [all unique and distinct] at the same time” (Levine)
Levine warrants that multiculturalism dictates that in order for one to understand the complexities and nature of the culture, it is necessary to comprehend and study the broadest mixture of cultures that contribute to society and their interface with each other. He showed the Western Civilization standard has shown up because of the twentieth-century educational modernization. Levine also shows that epistemological disagreements over what truth is.
Supporting Levine’s theories is William James another historian. He defended the multifaceted environment of truth and gave Levine a way to characterize American identity. He uses James often in ponderings when associated with what truth is in epistemological and strategic ways. Levine continued his arguments by quoting James, “the greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths. James and Levine asserted the plural nature of truth. Truths crowd out truths; realities impinge on realities; facts clash with as well as complement each other.” (James) This is pragmatism’s that there is a relationship between the truth and the seeker.
It is important to consider that the problem is not simply what material is used in a college curriculum. In order for women and minority groups to understand gender and racial issues and have a consciousness of their interpretation they need to consider the idea of the West where all humans are capable of entering and empathizing with the experience of another. His is why Levine argues that universities are too compartmentalized and fragmented. He does not however acknowledge the role of post-structuralism or racial pentagon in regards to this finding. Levine does contradict that fragmentation of university life affects society. He stated the real issue that this society if facing is not relevant to the universities.
The multicultural importance lies in the fact that the society is comprised of so many different races, beliefs, and cultures that understanding these factors are important. The higher educational institutions need to reflect this in their curriculum likewise. By implementing multicultural studies, it warrants students the ability to learn, embrace, and ultimately understand other races that they may have not been privy to previously. This is important not only for society but in preparation for real world exposure and to prepare the student for the real world. Levine highlighted many different factors that validates his arguments for educational reform. Not specified by one specific class, but broadening the overall curriculum that is available and require in the universities.
Bloom and Levine both bring a light to the table regarding the need of change in the universities curriculums. The change that has occurred has implements a steady decline in the way that college students learn. Personally, Bloom’s arguments have more relevance and credibility as he present them to the reader. The educational institutions have room to broaden their structure to implement both ideals presented in by these two historians. The educational curricula needs to be revised as well as the educational canons. This can be done by requiring students to learn of important multicultural events while requiring them to think for themselves. Reverting back to educational institutions where the student have to be involved regardless of the course. Levine offered a great insight for the necessity for change, however Bloom won the battle. Bloom’s ideals, whereas some maybe understated or oversimplified, are important to consider when looking at the future or our higher educational systems.
Ansell-Pearson, Keith. “Nietzsche’s Post-Modern Identity: From Epoch to Ethos, History of European Ideas”. 1995. Print.
Bloom, Allen. “The Closing of the American Mind”. Simon and Schuster New York, Ny.1987. Print.
Daneen, Patrick. “Who Closed the American Mind?” The American Conservative, 2012. Web.
James,William. “The Relation between Knower and Known,” in William James: Writings, 1902-1910, ed. Bruce Kuklick (New York, 1987), 521. Print.
Levine, Lawrence W. The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History. Boston; Beacon Press. 1996. Print.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life.” Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1980. Print.
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