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  1. #1
    Sniffles
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    Default Closing of the American Mind - a review

    Excellent review of Allan Bloom's major work concerning the decline of the American educational and intellectual traditions.

    The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, An Evolution of Consciousness ARJ2 Review

    Some important exceprts:
    A paradoxical aspect of Bloom's book is that he deals with two forms of openness and goes on to show how what is called openness in the first form actually amounts to a "closing of the mind". Here are two kinds of openness and the effects that Bloom says each has on students:

    I. Openness of indifference - humbling of intellectual pride; be whatever you want to be.
    A. Stunts students' desire for self-discovery by making all endeavors of equal value.
    B. Leads to the abandonment of their requirements to take languages and study philosophy of science
    C. Activates their amour-propre - self-love or esteem based on others' opinions (polls)
    D. Teaches them a loose interpretation of documents such as the Constitution, a waffling philosophy based on "it all depends".
    E. Closes them to doubt about so many things impeding progress. (page 42)

    II. Openness to the quest for knowledge and certitude - history and cultures as examples
    A. Encourages students to want to know what things from history and culture are good for them, what will make them happy.
    B. Activates their amour-soi - natural and healthy self-love or esteem arising from within oneself independent of the opinions of others.
    C. Teaches them a close interpretation of the Constitution - "government of laws"
    D. Teaches them that a true openness means a closed-ness to all the charms that make us comfortable with the present.(page 42)

    How does one question this Openness I, amour-propre, which is based on a philosophical premise that is recursive, that develops its own proof out of itself?
    [page 39] This premise is unproven and dogmatically asserted for what are largely political reasons. History and culture are interpreted in the light of it, and then are said to prove the premise.
    This is the Great Closing that Bloom promises in the title of his book:
    [page 34] 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.
    ....
    That first form of openness, the openness of indifference or amour-propre, is at the root of the wave of relativism that swept into university campuses in the 1960's, actually broke down the doors, occupied administrative offices, and held professors at gunpoint . This openness is a relativism that says "all endeavors are of equal value" -- that the study of Shakespeare equal, eg, to the study of how hummingbirds fly.

    Using these concepts of amour propre and amour soi of Rousseau, Bloom shows that this relativism is based on a self-esteem that comes from others' opinions, a poll-based self-esteem. So that what determines the curriculum is what's popular and easy to understand currently in society.

    The other kind of openness he talks about is an openness to study historical and cultural texts and material in their original form, and to be open to develop one's own thoughts from them rather than accepting at first glance, without questioning, the opinions of so-called experts in the field in their textbooks, which may be scholarly but necessarily shallow rehashes of the original texts. Only by such independent and internal self-assessment can one arrive at amour soi -- a self-love and esteem that comes from within oneself rather than from others opinions.

    How does Allan Bloom say that we might re-invigorate the college and university curriculum? He suggests that a return to the use of original texts and materials is key. To assign students Dante's "Inferno" rather than a synopsis of classical poems to read. To read Shakespeare plays, not a critical review of his plays. To read Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant, Freud in the original and to form one's own judgments as what are the important questions and what the answers to these questions are for oneself. That method can have the salubrious effect of actually leading the students to discover a great value, a vital understanding that can only come from directly confronting the authors in their original words in context, and from that discovery to create a royal road to future learning in their students hearts.
    In short, Bloom says, "One has to have the experience of really believing before one can have the thrill of liberation." That may indeed be the kind of "liberation" that is at the very root of what we mean by "liberal education."

  2. #2
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    I have not read the book... so forgive my lack of understanding and please correct me if I err.

    I found some of the points in the review puzzling.

    Mainly regarding to the problems of "openness of indifference".
    Using these concepts of amour propre and amour soi of Rousseau, Bloom shows that this relativism is based on a self-esteem that comes from others' opinions, a poll-based self-esteem. So that what determines the curriculum is what's popular and easy to understand currently in society.
    What is the problem with having a curriculum based on that which is "popular"? One of the problems with any field of study is outreach to the general population. I'm going to take pharmacology as an example simply because I'm familiar with it. Pharmacology, or drug studies as it's commonly called, is not well known even among science students. Many of them confuse it with pharmacy, which relates to dispensing of drugs. I've been talking to professors a little while back. One of the things they would like to do is to start an introductory course in pharmacology. A 100 or 200 level course to expose more undergraduates to the field. In this case, popular topics, like stimulants, opioids etc will serve as a spring board to spark interests in students. I don't see anything wrong with this.

    Problem with these popular topics using "watered down" material is the lack of depth in education. I fully agree with that point. But the use of original text, we call it primary literature in science, ought to be for upper level study. It should be for students who have decided upon their concentration and are serious about learning more on the topic.

    Essentially I see the two as complimentary routes for education rather than to two separate methods. I'm confused as to why the two were discussed as being opposites.

  3. #3
    Sniffles
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    nightning, it's past 2am here so I'll have to respond to your comments at another time.

  4. #4
    pathwise dependent FDG's Avatar
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    Sounds like a bogus point of somebody making up shit to criticize things that don't really happen in reality. Of course, if more people have access to education, there will be more people that don't study the original text. But this doesn't mean that there will be less people that do. In fact, nowadays we have an extreme ease of access to libraries, something which in the past was exclusively relegated to being a dream for the greatest majority of the population - a reality only for the richest, or for people pertaining to official religious movements (that's one of the (many) reasons why the Church was allowed to have so much power in the past, too, and nowadays it's fortunately becoming ashtray).
    ENTj 7-3-8 sx/sp

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    Senior Member Simplexity's Avatar
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    To add a short little snippet because It's late and I don't feel like straining myself.

    You make a good point about libraries being an Excellent resource for truly gathering whatever particular source you need, whether it be original source or parsed textbooks.

    Is the case being made for the general public though?

    Because if thats the case I think FDG you are giving to much credit to the masses, we just had an election recently and I can almost assure you a shocking number of people most likely voted without in fact "educating" themselves. Even though I would assume there was ample opportunity, information, and resources to do so. Unless things are handed and spoon fed to the general public their is no guarantee that they will use their own wisdom and seek it out themselves. If his case is that you have to attack it at the source I might tentatively agree.

    That also begs the question that Nighning asked. Should we rely on having disinterested students study source material. is that beneficial? Its a hard thing to say but I would say overall motivation has to be taken in to account, I assume it would be very low.

    Is the argument then to be made that the general public has all the resources necessary to achieve to their desires but they are not utilizing it. I think that has a lot of merit and would invalidate to a great extent this "theory" or opinion if you will. I just don't think that there is any surefire way to instigate the general public when there is so many opportunities out there if you are curious and diligent. So I think maybe there has to be some alternatives entertained.
    My cold, snide, intellectual life is just a veneer, behind which lies the plywood of loneliness.

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    Senior Member kuranes's Avatar
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    I'm about halfway done reading Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason" as a counterpart to this Bloom book. Here is an interview with Susan on Bill Moyers TV show. Although she starts out talking about the implications of the word "folks" versus "people" there are some very good points made later, and they do not all favor the leftist POV. Bill Moyers Journal . Watch & Listen | PBS
    "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
    Reichsfuhrer Herman Goering at the Nuremburg trials.

  7. #7
    Sniffles
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    Quote Originally Posted by FDG View Post
    Sounds like a bogus point of somebody making up shit to criticize things that don't really happen in reality.
    THe only person here making up bogus shit is yourself sir.


    Of course, if more people have access to education, there will be more people that don't study the original text. But this doesn't mean that there will be less people that do.
    Except the problem there are less people that are studying the original texts.

    In fact, nowadays we have an extreme ease of access to libraries, something which in the past was exclusively relegated to being a dream for the greatest majority of the population - a reality only for the richest, or for people pertaining to official religious movements (that's one of the (many) reasons why the Church was allowed to have so much power in the past, too, and nowadays it's fortunately becoming ashtray).
    That's ironic, since the Church helped spread literacy to wider porportions of the population, in accordance with the belief that if people were to find salvation within the Bible they should be able to read it.

  8. #8
    Sniffles
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    Quote Originally Posted by nightning View Post
    What is the problem with having a curriculum based on that which is "popular"?
    Because among many other things is means relying on material that fails to challenge the students' intellectual capacities, and thus are cheated out of an effective education.

    One of the problems with any field of study is outreach to the general population. I'm going to take pharmacology as an example simply because I'm familiar with it.
    Well the main area Bloom is talking about here are the Humanities, so I doubt the analogy is valid.

    Problem with these popular topics using "watered down" material is the lack of depth in education. I fully agree with that point. But the use of original text, we call it primary literature in science, ought to be for upper level study.
    I disagree. Primary literature exists on various levels, so a student who is not doing more in-depth study can still delve into them.

    It's important for students(and by extension everyone) to be exposed to this stuff on some level - it's very much the basis for any geniune sense of culture and civilization. Alice von Hildebrand once remarked about how Italian peasants often could sing elements of Dante's Inferno by heart.

    So even if they're not able to read Plato's Republic in-depth, they still can derive plenty of wisdom they need from works like the Book of Proverbs for example. Proverbs are the common man's form of philosophizing.

    I'll add more on later.

  9. #9
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peguy View Post
    Because among many other things is means relying on material that fails to challenge the students' intellectual capacities, and thus are cheated out of an effective education.
    A scenario:
    Assume I'm an average college student... chances are I truly don't care what sort of education I'm getting so long as I get a degree out of it. Most students are more interested in getting a high grade from the course than the quality of course material. It's a sad case, but that's reality for you. Just walk into any undergraduate class and listen to the students and this is readily observed.

    Challenging the students' intellectual capacities is good providing the students wish to be challenged. Aimahn phrased it nicely,

    Should we rely on having disinterested students study source material. is that beneficial? Its a hard thing to say but I would say overall motivation has to be taken in to account, I assume it would be very low.
    Also the difficulty of the material should also be gradually stepped up. Source material alone might not be the best for introductory courses. It's a different issue if source material is used along side with summaries.

    Well the main area Bloom is talking about here are the Humanities, so I doubt the analogy is valid.
    Fair enough.

    It's important for students(and by extension everyone) to be exposed to this stuff on some level - it's very much the basis for any geniune sense of culture and civilization. Alice von Hildebrand once remarked about how Italian peasants often could sing elements of Dante's Inferno by heart.

    So even if they're not able to read Plato's Republic in-depth, they still can derive plenty of wisdom they need from works like the Book of Proverbs for example. Proverbs are the common man's form of philosophizing.
    This relates back to interest and a change in culture. Society changed. The typical layperson is now more interested in technology than literature. The question here is how can we refuel interest. My answer to that is bait and lure.

    I'll add more on later.
    Looking forward to that.

  10. #10
    Sniffles
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    Quote Originally Posted by nightning View Post
    A scenario:
    Assume I'm an average college student... chances are I truly don't care what sort of education I'm getting so long as I get a degree out of it. Most students are more interested in getting a high grade from the course than the quality of course material. It's a sad case, but that's reality for you. Just walk into any undergraduate class and listen to the students and this is readily observed.
    I'm well aware of that, and that's the very heart of the problem. Schooling is now more about career utility than actual education. There are plenty of long-term consequences if this kind of situation is not corrected.

    This relates back to interest and a change in culture. Society changed.
    Yes Im well aware of that; however it's not good to always assume these changes were inevitable or unalterable.

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