Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: Lawrence W Levine

From Melting Pot to the Pluralist Vision

Part III of The Opening of the American Mind, starts with From Melting Pot to the Pluralist Vision, my version looks more like a tapestry.

Lawrence W. Levine starts with this:

“The United State themselves are essentially the greatest poem…Here is not merely a nation but a teeming of nations.” – Walt Whitman, Preface, Leaves of Grass 1855

When did we, the United States, become singular?

I think it was after the World Wars. We became a “super power” by the end of World War II, and ever since then I’ve read the “United States” as one nation, indivisible. But are we? Should we be?

“…by Alexis de Tocqueville in a letter to Ernest de Chabrol in the spring of 1831: ‘Imagine, my dear friend, if you can, a society formed of all the nations of the world…people having different languages, beliefs, opinions: in a word, a society without roots, without memories, without prejudices, without routines, without common ideas, without a national character, yet a hundred times happier than our own.’”

Gives me chills reading that. It sounds so amazing, like looking at a beautifully intricate tapestry. Each thread, warp and woof, laying next to each other, not blending, but standing independent of the other. And when you pull back you see the picture they create.

 “The melting pot” is another way of describing it. You’ve heard that before. There was a Schoolhouse Rock episode of it, all the people of the world coming together, melting into one, and creating something different, greater than the sum of its parts.

I’ve never been a fan of that visual. I like the idea of a heterogenous people verses a homogenous one. A mixture of races, cultures, ideas and visions, all moving toward a common goal: freedom, prosperity, and pursuit of happiness. But that’s an unruly bunch to control, isn’t it?

“If American schools produced, ‘one general, and uniform system of education,’ (Dr. Benjamin) Rush argued, it would ‘render the mass of people more homogenous, and thereby fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government.’”

I’m starting to love the idea of “multiculturalism” more and more every day. That’s what this book is really about, that universities are moving toward teaching in our own time what is important to the people of our time, along with the past greatness in the context of our own time.

Since this book was written in 1996, much has changed, some of it not for the better, at least from my vantage point. It seems we are all at each other’s throats, threatening each other, cancelling each other. It does not feel like we’re moving toward anything better than what we’ve had, one side against another fighting for dominance instead of equality.

But the author has shed some much-needed light on what’s going on, all the way from thirty years ago. I feel better after reading this, not worse, which is much appreciated.

I’m going to leave this book with the following quote:

“Every previous generation of Americans has had is profound difficulties accepting ethnic and racial groups who did not seem to adhere to some earlier model; every previous generation of Americans has spied in the new immigration of its own time the seeds of dissolution and chaos; every previous generation of Americans – composed of the children of earlier immigrants – has seen itself as the native guardians of the Pure and Original America. And every previous generation of Americans has been incorrect in its fears and its certainties because every previous generation – and our won as well – has understood only very imperfectly the phenomena of immigration and assimilation.”

Today, we still have vicious arguments over immigration, but we’ve added so much more. Sexual identity, lifestyles, medical choices, the list goes on and on. It seems we don’t want a “melting pot” or a “tapestry.” We want everyone all over the nation to act just like us, whatever that is. There’s no sense of “live and let live.” We’ve become a tribal mess.

The idea of a heterogeneous society is what I think we need; like Tocqueville described, a large group of people, from different backgrounds, races, and cultures, all living along side each other in peace. Sounds fantastical, but I think we can do it. At university, college, and even simply in high school and reading on the internet, we can learn about each other, speak our languages, find our commonalities, and celebrate our differences.

Here’s a crazy idea. What if the internet and even social media can facilitate that? What if each time you post a piece of yourself for the world to see, you invite more people to know you and your ideas and your culture? And each time someone reads that positivity, they adopt some of it for themselves or leave it alone for someone else. And what if we simply did not react to the naysayers. Let them nay say.

Honestly, I thought that’s what the internet would bring us. What happened?

Learning And Legitimacy: Who Are We?

Are you excited? Today we’re going to go into Part II of The Opening of the American Mind, called Learning and Legitimacy. Don’t worry! I’m not going to go crazy and write two-thousand words here. I do highly recommend this book though. It was fascinating and not at all a complicated read that I had to slog through. I loved every page!

“Throughout the colonial period, American colleges were characterized by a homogeneous model; they were, as one student of education has called them, “copies of copies”: the American rendition of the English adaptation of the Renaissance revision of the medieval curriculum.”

Sounds…enlightening, doesn’t it? The curriculum “consisted of Latin, Greek, sometime Hebrew, mathematics, natural philosophy, moral philosophy, and logic.” That’s it. No other languages, including English.

Ugg…I’m having a terrible time with this. I think I need to go back and learn how to study better and write an essay. My sons would be so ashamed of this. I’ll just summarize in my own words.

University before the early 20th century was based on this “Classical Education” model. Study the ancients and you’ll get the basis that modern progress is based on. Why study that which came after? I’m talking Shakespeare here, you guys. French, German, Spanish…useless. And they all fought about how crazy it was that people were trying to change that all through the 1800’s, just like they fought about the adding common people’s voices all through the 1900’s, and now we’re doing it again.

learning and legitimacy
@desertdreamer72

The author summed it up best this way:

“The debate over the canon is now, and has always been, a debate over the culture and over the course that culture should take.

…this debate (is not) an aberrant product of a debased society; it is the current chapter of a much older and continuing discussion about values, meanings, perspectives, and ways of comprehending ourselves and those around us.”

Once again, I learn that the sky is not falling, we are not in the end times, and life is actually just continuing on as it always has. Only now we have the glorious ability to see and hear each other all over the world, instantly and constantly.

And then there is this:

“The debate over the nature of the curriculum and the canon was paralleled by a debate that raged throughout the whole of American history over the nature of America itself and of American identity.”

Who are we? What makes us a nation? What is university for? Why do we send our “kids” there? And why is so hotly debated? Those answers are discussed in the third and final part of this book, The Search for American Identity. We’ll talk about that tomorrow!

History – The Awareness of Yesterday

Have you ever finished reading a book and you’re lost in thought, so much so that you don’t know where to start talking about how it affected you or what it even said? That’s where I am right now with The Opening of the American Mind by Lawrence W. Levine. There was so much that made sense, so much that I didn’t realize, that I’m sitting here staring at my notes thinking, “Now what?”

I typically don’t summarize a book at all, so why am I trying to do it with this one? Maybe because there was so much in it that I want other people to know, and I know no one else is going to read it. THAT’S what’s bothering me. I’m trying to get all the details about this book through to you, just in case my posts are all you ever read of it. That’s not going to work.

In hindsight, the moment I realized how much I was highlighting and making notes in this book, I should have slowed down and written something about each hour I had read, instead of powering through and scarfing it all up. Smaller bites mean better digestion, right? But I was in a mood to just read over the weekend though, so here we are.

Sigh…this is what happens when you love a book’s contents too much. We live and learn.

I’ll just go through the book, start throwing down some quotes, and see where we end up. Ok?

The first part of the book established his confusion about people’s feelings about changes in university curriculum.

Part I: A Historian in Wonderland – Through the Looking Glass

“Finding evidence of radicalism in the very title of books whose substance is not examined has become standard practice.”

This was true in 1996 when the book was written, and true now, maybe more so since the invention and proliferation of social media. Now we ban the content of books by our assumptions based on the title, and we condemn an idea based on the headline of an article or the party affiliation of the person who wrote it.

“Should their education include the lives and culture of everyday people? A traditional liberal arts education, Roger Kimball has asserted, ‘is unquestionably elitist in the sense that it focuses on the pinnacle of human cultural and intellectual achievement,’”

The next chapter goes into this more, but I had no idea that curriculum had changed that much over the last 100 years. The books and histories that we use in our education systems were all based on the winners of our society, the wealthy and powerful. Before the 60’s, we didn’t study anyone else. Why? This book will tell you.

“The current emphasis on social and cultural history which so troubles contemporary critics is no more permanent than were past emphases on political, intellectual, economic, or diplomatic history. Neither is it any more – or less – politically motivated. 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.”

Until the early 20th century, a Bachelor of Science was not popular, looked down on, and not every school allowed it. Study new ideas and thought? Why? All those ideas were based on the ancient texts. Study those. And there were nasty terrible debates and arguments about that then.

Here’s an idea I thought was fascinating: history isn’t written by the people living at the time. When I write about what’s happening around me right now, I’m not writing history. I’m writing memoir. It’s one point of view. Someone in the future may read my memoir, among other documents, and put them all together from their point of view and that would be called a history. A hundred years later, someone else would read those documents and write another history from their vantage point. History changes.

“To understand where the university is we have to understand where it has been and how its present state was constructed. There is no quicker or easier way to proceed; to fathom today requires some awareness of yesterday. In the process we will learn not only about higher education, we will discover truths about our culture and, hopefully, about ourselves as well.”

I would like to create a billboard campaign with the words “to fathom today requires some awareness of yesterday” and place them along every freeway in the United States.

The next part goes into that history and I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

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

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