Closing American Mind
Higher education today is one of the most important components of civilized societies. For decades, and even for centuries, women, African-Americans, and other minorities have fought for the right to obtain a tertiary qualification. Tertiary education means that a person can enter a well-paying workplace, have the opportunity of promotion, do work that is fulfilling and satisfying to him or her as an individual, and so on. The book The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom (1987) appears to lament the fact that higher education is open not only to all cultures, but to all the ideas emerging from such cultures. He believes that a lack of moral standard and an over-abundance of what he refers to as an "open mind" has created a higher education that has not basis in searching for "truth," but rather makes truth relative and not so much worth seeking as exploring in terms of many contradictory facets. Bloom's ideas have little relevance for the higher education process today; his focus on maintaining a singular "truth" as absolute would, ironically, lead to a closed mind. Instead, today's higher education, by exposing students to more than one possibility and the pursuit of innovation rather than static truth is what prepares them for a world in which technology has created a global and multiple vision of a "truth" that is not static, but one that is multi-dimensional and pliable. This vision of reality is on par with the world that technology has created. Without it, students will not be able to enter the workplace today.
In Bloom's book, he begins by focusing on what he means my how the American mind has become "closed" by being "too open" to all possible truths. He laments, for example, the fact that all cultures are now regarded in terms of equality rather than one majority that dictates a central culture for the country. Bloom appears to promote an essence of a culture that is by nature suppressive and subversive of others that share the country with it. By opening the political arena for these cultures, and indeed for the equality of gender in the country, the author claims that Americans have lost a fundamental part of what it means to be American.
In considering education and those at universities, Bloom (1987, p. 25) claims the following:
The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable natural rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society.
Here, Bloom appears to lament the fact that the current focus on multiple pliable truths rather than a singular static one is one of the ways in which society has fallen and given up its rights for what appears to be "nothing." If one argues for the educational process, however, one might question the strength of this claim. Would students who recognize only a singular static truth as superior to all others not be out of place in the society that has today been created by technology? Technology has created a global arena not only for the economic and business sectors, but also for all members of society to meet and interact.
It is very clear that Bloom wrote at a time before the Internet and the idea that globalization might become a common feature of business. As such, the author is unaware that no student exposed only to singular truth in a university setting, not matter how culturally or morally sound from certain viewpoints, would be able to enter a business setting in which there are multiple cultures, viewpoints, and business interactions. Indeed, it is common grounds for business expansion today to be fully aware, or at least make oneself aware, of the culture and "truths" of the target country. No business seeking to expand itself in such a way can do so successfully without such investigations.
In terms of tertiary education, then, it is very important to prepare students for the eventuality that they will almost necessarily enter a workplace in which they will have to integrate their own viewpoints and truths with those of others. In an educational process where the aim is to prepare young learning from past mistakes, such a mind searches only for the new ideas and judgment-free encounters.
When apply thing to education, Bloom (1987, p. 34) laments the lack of knowledge in terms of American history:
The upshot of all this for the education of young Americans is that they know much less about American history and those who were held to be its heroes. This was one of the few things that they used to come to college with that had something to do with their lives. Nothing has taken its place except a smattering of facts learned about other nations or cultures and a few social science formulas.
One might question this assumption by, again, determining the purpose of college. The purpose of college, as stated above, is to prepare young people for their futures as adults and gainfully employed members of society. It is furthermore to ensure that young people have access to careers they would find fulfilling and that would make them happy and productive members of society. It is unlikely that being forcibly entered into an American history class would accomplish this.
Certainly, the learning of American history would result in cultural pride for some, but then, what kind of pride would this be? What of the many atrocities committed by American soldiers and politicians over the centuries? Can these really be posited as "heroic acts" as they were in the past, when the words African and slave were synonymous? What of the African-American heroes who actively worked to abolish slavery, segregation, and inequality? What of American Indian heroes who worked to restore the relations between cultures? Today, values have become such to grant all human beings equal rights. Bloom appears to regard this as a step back from "civilization." For Bloom, civilization appears to mean that there should be a majority culture and that all minority cultures should be subordinate to this.
From today's viewpoint, a student, or indeed any American citizen who values the hard-won freedoms enjoyed today, would more likely agree with some of the "liberal" tendencies so lamented by Bloom (1987, p. 28):
From the earliest beginnings of liberal thought there was a tendency in the direction of indiscriminate freedom. Hobbes and Locke, and the American Founders following them, intended to palliate extreme beliefs, particularly religious beliefs, which lead to civil strife.
This is no doubt true, and in evidence even today, in a world where religious extremists commit crimes in the name of their faith. Of course the most prominent example of this is Islamists who become suicide bombers for their reward in heaven. One can see Bloom arguing with this example for exactly the point he has been making. Religious extremists, by being tolerated, were allowed into the country to wreak havoc. However, in counter to such an argument, one might also argue again Christian extremists who would deny the reading of certain books, even when these have been recognized as classics. Does "closing the mind" not refer to a lack of exposure to ideas, and especially those presented in written form? Furthermore, is American history not also filled with the struggle by minorities and its heroes?
There is also an argument to be made against the sense of focusing on the future rather than learning from past mistakes. In business, a common principle is to learn from past mistakes. People who do not learn from their past mistakes are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over. It is a common feature in both business and psychology that people are taught to consider the error of their past ways in order to create a new and improved self. Indeed, one might even say that the very openness to cultures, ideas, and morality other than one's own is a feature of learning from a past where a lack of such openness led to death, destruction, and outrage, not all of which to the extreme scale of 9/11, but certainly devastating in its own right. Indeed,…
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