The Opening of the American Mind: New Read

Next up, The Opening of the American Mind: Canon, Culture, and History by Lawrence W. Levine.

Picking a new book this time was a chore, people. A real chore. I just sat there in front of my TBR shelf (it’s low to the ground) and stared. I pulled books off and put them on the floor, contenders. I took pictures and texted them to friends asking for advice. I reordered, restacked.

I’ve read several self-help books, a memoir, and some science and sci-fi this past month. I wasn’t sure where to go next. I picked up this one about higher education and thought, “Meh, I’m not real excited about it, but I like books about education and it looks interesting, so what the hell?!”

Years ago, I can’t say when exactly because it was before I kept a reading journal and wrote the dates in the books as I read them (pre-2017), I read The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students by Allan Bloom.

Correction! I thought of something and checked my old blog and found some of my comments there from November 2016. Back then, nearly six years ago, I questioned whether the book would depress or inspire me. My children were fifteen and sixteen years old and we were talking about college. I went to university but never graduated. My husband took a certificate course, but that’s all.

The way the news and people I know talk about higher education, I was wondering if it was worth it. The book didn’t help. It only confirmed many of my suspicions. In my opinion, if you want a liberal education, much can be had for free by joining groups and reading the books for yourself. Direction is missing, leadership from a professor, but you could find a mentor to help you through if you really wanted to.

I’m digressing, I’m sorry.

I picked up The Opening of the American Mind from a used book pile a few years ago because I thought it would be interesting to hear the counter argument to Bloom’s book. I read Bloom and agreed with much of what he said, but now I’m reading Levine and I’m floored. There’s so much I didn’t know.

I’ve already spent six hours in this book, and I’m nearly finished. There’s so much to think about, so many comments I want to make. I’m hoping to share a few highlights with you in the next few days. I thought this was going to be complicated and dry, but it’s a surprisingly great read.

The Opening of the American Mind was written in 1996, so nearly thirty years later I have questions. Have things gotten better or gone off the rails? We hear every day about college and university problems, that schools are pandering to kids, safe spaces, cancel culture, and all that jazz.

I’ve been one of those “a liberal education isn’t what you get there anymore” people. But now I’m not so sure. I’ll be finishing the book very soon. Like I said, I want to think about it more and put together complete thoughts, so it may take me a few days to get a post together.

“It is essential that we understand the current struggles in and around the university in their historical context because only then can we fathom their meaning; only then can we comprehend fully the reason for and the nature of the changes that have been taking place in American universities in the past several decades.”

What do you think? Did you go to university? For what and why? I went to the University of La Verne as a theater major, set design. Yes, I’m aware the school specializes in teachers and lawyers, but I was young and convinced by my high school counselor that it would be a great idea. There’s something to write another post about. Yikes.

Want to read more? Try
History – The Awareness of Yesterday
Learning and Legitimacy: Who Are We?

From Melting Pot to the Pluralist Vision


What do you think?