How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy

The Closing of the American Mind? 
Allan Bloom
orHOW HIGHER EDUCATION FAILED DEMOCRACY ???Educate then at any rate; for the age of implicit self sacrifice and instinctive virtue is flitting away from us, and the time is fast approaching when freedom and public peace, and social order itself will not be able to exist without education???. This was the advice that Alexis d Tocqueville was giving to the American society at the beginning of the 19 century. When reading through his book ???Democracy in America ???it is difficult not to see parallels between American society in the 1800?s and the America of today. Even though he does not make clear reference to public education, his words emphasize the importance of education in sustaining a democratic society.
First it should be defined if the basic premise is correct: had education been a failure The answer should be ???yes??? since many voices talk about a ???lack of interest???, ???fake education??? or a ???lack for thirst for knowledge???. Now the real question is: whose fault is it Is the society The students The democratic values
A paradoxical aspect of Blooms book is that he deals? with all this notions in explaining the failures in educational field.
???In high school I had seen many of the older boys and girls go off to the state university
to become doctors, lawyers, social workers, teachers, the whole variety of professions respectable in the little world in which I lived. The university was part of growing up, but it was not looked forward to as a transforming experience??”nor was it so in fact. No one believed that there were serious
ends of which we had not heard, or that there was a way of studying our ends and determining their rank order. In short, philosophy was only a word, and literature a form of entertainment.???[1]
In his words from the famous work ???The Closing of the American Mind ???, Allan Bloom confess his disappointment regarding the educational aims of his colleagues: a degree. He argued that the commercial pursuits have become more highly valued than the philosophical quest for truth. His idea is a direct challenge to the aims and practices off the business management programs, that have become so popular. These ???progressive??? methods have actually diminished the importance of knowledge itself, about traditional fields of study such as history, art, literature, language.
Bloom criticize explicitly this progressive method, considering that this had diminished the importance of knowledge itself : ???Similarly Deweys pragmatism??”the method of science especially natural limits??”saw the past as radically imperfect and regarded our history as irrelevant or as a hindrance to rational analysis of our as the method of democracy, individual growth without limits, present???.[2]
Another paradoxical aspect of Blooms book is that he deals with two forms of? openness in explaining how democracy has failed democracy.. He goes on to show how what is called? openness? in the first form actually amounts to a “closing of the mind”. First form is openness of indifference which stunts students desire for self-discovery by making all endeavors of equal valu, leads to the abandonment of their requirements to take languages and study philosophy of science. He emphasize the fact that this kind of openness activates their? amour-propre? ??” self-love or esteem based on others opinions and closes them to doubt about so many things impeding progress: ??? Actually openness 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[3].
The second form openness to the quest for knowledge and certitude?  encourages students to want to know what things from history and culture are good for them, what will make them happy.
Activates their? amour-soi – natural and healthy self-love or esteem arising from within oneself independent of the opinions of others.
Bloom sees that one form of? openness, relativism or? amour-propre, really amounts to a “closing of the American mind”. He suggests that one way of re-invigorating the college curriculum is by adding back a study of the Great Books and classical authors whose books fell into disuse during the 1960s. With this kind of refocusing of educational resources and re-direction of college students he expect that students will come to understand that before one can really experience the thrill of liberation, one has to have something to really believe in. That experience of really believing can come whenever a student fully studies classical authors in their original works, and after fully believing in what theyve read, learn to question and evaluate the beliefs those original authors held as self-evident to them.
? One need only read “Emile” to discover the truth of Blooms statement that a reading of original texts allows one to form a vital understanding of issues that a reading of shallow rehashes of such texts does not. In this context Bloom championed the idea of the ???Greater Book education???, because only the study of these great works of history, art and literature are the soul of the education -not as a collection of antiquarian knowledge, but as an entree into the great and eternal questions that are not subject to alteration or transformation.
To this extent, Bloom held that human beings possess a certain nature that is not subject to fundamental change; questions that were true and alive for Socrates remain fundamentally true for us as well, in spite of vast separations of distance and time. When talking about his students from the beginning of his career and the one he taught in the later part, he laments about the :
???The loss of the books has made them narrower and flatter. Narrower because they lack what is most necessary, a real basis for discontent with the present and awareness that there are alternatives to it.(…)Flatter, because without interpretations of things, without the poetry or the imaginations activity, their souls are like mirrors, not of nature, but of what is around???[4]. He noticed that the tradition has become a source of boredom, instead of being a source of edification and inspiration. Since the students have turn their back to the canon they dont have the aesthetic appreciation for separating what is important from what is trivial.
Bloom considered that the books no longer change the lives of the young and that is way the university failed : because it did not emphasized the importance of literature. The remedy for this failure is according to Bloom: ???Of course, the only serious solution is the one that is almost universally rejected: the good old Great Books approach, in which a liberal education means reading certain generally recognized classic texts, just reading them, letting them dictate what the questions are and the method of approaching them??”not forcing them into categories we make up, not treating them as historical products, but trying to read them as their authors wished them to be read???.[5]
So he suggests that a return to the use of original texts and materials is key. To assign students Dantes “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 ones 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.
Bloom gives the reader one caveat: that we should avoid the mistake of the Great Books Groups who tend to treat the Books like dollars in a bank account where the goal is to get as many dollars in it as possible. The goal should be rather to emphasize as the goal the reading and questioning that arises during the reading ??” the process is whats important, not how many Books one reads.
Bloom argues that the social and political crisis of twentieth century America is really an intellectual crisis. Bloom blamed high technology, the sexual revolution, and the introduction of cultural diversity into the curriculum at the expense of the classics, which in turn produced students without wisdom or values. From this point of view ???The Closing of the American Mind??? is even more relevant today than when it was published in 1987.
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.”? 
[1] Bloom Allan, ???The Closing of the American Mind???, page 39, Simon and Schuster, New York,1987
[2] Bloom, Allan, ???The Closing of the American Mind???, page 56, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987
[3] Bloom Allan, ???The Closing of the American Mind???, page 34, Simon and Schuster, New York,1987
[4] Bloom,Allan, ???The Closing of the American Mind???, page 65, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987
[5] Bloom,Allan, ???The Closing of the American Mind???, page 348, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987

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