Educational Evolution: An Overview of Allan Bloom’s Notorious Novel

Last semester I took a course called Birth of Learning. It was basically a philosophic attempt at understanding the evolution of educational practices in the West, starting with antiquity and ending on modern American school systems. I’ve always been extremely fascinated by education. Why it “works” for some and not for others? My professor asked us to read Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. It is a modernized (written in the 1980s) look at how education is in America, and why it (particularly higher education) doesn’t impact us in a way students a century ago were. The book was assigned in November and I didn’t finish it until early January, after the class had already completed. I wanted to take my time with it, and to be frank, I didn’t really have a choice. I am not a natural quick reader, and this book is not naturally a quick read for the average person. As I got through it, I underlined passages I thought would be worth remembering. I will list them below. If you find these quotes endearing, I recommend you try to read the book in the near future. I am going to be attempting some more challenging books this year, and I urge you to join me and maybe start with this one. It is highly thought-provoking and easy to integrate into 2019 affairs. I hope you can take away something from these quotes just like I have.

Foreward
“The real community of man, in the midst of all the self-contradictory simulacra of community, is the community of those who seek the truth, of the potential knowers… of all men to the extent they desire to know” (Bellow 11).

Preface
“Thus, teaching can be a threat to philosophy because philosophizing is a solitary quest, and he who pursues it must never look to an audience” (20).
“The liberally educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration” (21).
“And book learning is most of what a teacher can give—properly administered in an atmosphere in which its relation to life is plausible” (21).

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Book Itself
“But when there are not shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible?” (27)
“Actually opens 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” (34).
“In short, [undergraduates] are lost in a no-man’s-land between the goodness of knowing and the goodness of culture, where they have been placed by their teachers who no longer have the resources to guide them” (37).
“Thus students, and the rest of us, are deprived of the primary excitement derived from the discovery of diversity, the impulses of Odysseus, who, according to Dante, traveled the world to see the virtues and vices of men” (40).
“Error is indeed our enemy, but it alone points to the truth and therefore deserves our respectful treatment. The mind that has no prejudices at the outset is empty” (43).
“Its activity, [Nietzsche] believed, comes from culture, and the decay of culture meant not only the decay of man is this culture but the decay of man simply” (51).
“Parents do not have the legal or moral authority they had in the Old World. They lack self-confidence as educators of their children, generously believing that they will be better than their parents, not only in well-being, but in moral, bodily and intellectual virtue” (58).
“As it now stands, students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one” (67).
“..whereas liberal education is supposed to encourage the belief that the good life is the pleasant life and that the best life is the pleasant life” (80).
“Students today—and I have now asked the question over and over again—are morally unpretentious, and they look at themselves with irony when it comes to the big moral questions” (83).


“Persons deeply committed to values are admired. Their intense belief, their caring or concern, their believing in something, is the proof of autonomy, freedom and creativity” (142).
“Culture means a war against chaos and a war against other cultures” (202).
“The most important function of the university in an age of reason is to protect reason from itself, by being the model of true openness” (253).
“..real teachers of the humane disciplines who actually see their relation to the whole and urgently wish to preserve the awareness of it in their students’ consciousness” (342).
“Liberal education should give the student the sense that learning must and can be both synoptic and precise” (343).
“True liberal education requires that the student’s whole life be radically changed by it, that what he learns may affect his action, his tastes, his choices, that no previous attachment be immune to examination and hence re-evaluation” (370).
“But practically no one even tries to read [ancient texts] as they were once read—for the sake of finding out whether they are true. Aristotle’s Ethics teaches us not what a good man is but what the Greeks thought about morality” (373).
“But for all that, and even though they deserve our strenuous efforts, one should never forget that Socrates was not a professor, that he was put to death, and that the love of wisdom survived, partly because of his individual example” (382).

One thought on “Educational Evolution: An Overview of Allan Bloom’s Notorious Novel

  1. This looks like a slow read, one you need to take your time with in order to digest and consider it properly — like poetry. Here are two of my personal favorites:

    “As it now stands, students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one” (67).

    “Persons deeply committed to values are admired. Their intense belief, their caring or concern, their believing in something, is the proof of autonomy, freedom and creativity” (142).

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