Monday 18th November 2019

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The Dispensing Of The American Mind

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By DONALD DeMARCO

Allan Bloom’s 1987 best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind, shocked a great deal of readers by explaining why a university experience might not be an educational achievement. The author affirmed that “there is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: Almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” The focus of education, Bloom observed, had drifted over the past half-century from a democratic society to a democratic personality.
Hence, the jarring subtitle: “How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students.”
If we read the accounts written by Heather Mac Donald, Ben Shapiro, Anthony Esolen, Jordan Peterson, and others, we have reason to believe that university education has gotten much worse. Relativism at least recognizes that there are different values; it just does not know how to determine which ones are true. The closing of the American mind, however, has given way to dispensing with it altogether, leaving students to operate on pure emotion.
Relativism was not an attack on university education as much as a modification of it. But its replacement — let us call it “political correctness” — is not only an attack on education but a rejection of all of Western Civilization. It represents a retreat into a world of unbridled emotions for which there can be no rational antidote.
Heather Mac Donald has produced a best-selling book on the current crisis in education: The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupts the University and Undermines Our Culture. In order to provide a striking contrast between old and new attitudes toward education, she presents two quotations. The first was written in 1903 by historian, philosopher, and author W.E.B. DuBois: “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move my arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas. I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they all come, all graciously with no scorn or condescension.”
The contrasting quote is from a Columbia University student commenting on a music course: “Why do I have to listen to this Mozart? Who is this Mozart, this Haydn, these superior white men? There are no women, no people of color.”
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) was the first African-American to receive a doctorate from Harvard. He was a professor of Latin and Greek at Wilberforce University in Ohio. He taught other subjects at various other institutions. He wrote two novels, a book of essays and poetry, and other works.
In 1919 he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “Education,” he remarked, “is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which molds and develops men.” Elsewhere he stated: “The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a center of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.”
DuBois has something to say to the current generation of university students. He would have heartily endorsed C.S. Lewis’ advice of “keeping the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.” But he is swept away because much of what he said belongs to a tradition that is now despised.
Shakespeare, Mozart, and the rest come to all of us without prejudice. We should be open to them in the same way that they are open to us. Why listen to Mozart? Why listen to any of the great black jazz pianists? Art Tatum performed for none other than Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, and Sergei Rachmaninoff and won their highest praise. His playing was a melding of swing and classical music. He transformed several classical pieces, Dvorak’s Humoresque, for example, into his own arrangements. Scott Joplin amalgamated African-American songs with Western European music. If we should not listen to Mozart because he is white, why should we listen to the genius of Erroll Garner, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Mary Lou Williams, and countless others?
The root cause of the degeneration of university education is complex. Nevertheless, the decline of Christianity in American society has played a significant role. There are three points in Catholicism that are anathema to the secularist mind: 1) the reality of original sin; 2) the need for divine grace, 3) that this world is not our final destiny. The secular mind, not believing in an afterlife, tries to create a paradise on Earth. Secularists, therefore, refuse to believe that man is imperfect and they think he can build a Utopia by himself. In this utterly impossible Utopia, no one would ever be offended. Therefore, all offenders must be dealt with swiftly and decisively. Even an innocuous question such as “Where do you come from” is categorized as a “micro-aggression” and must be avoided at all costs.
The word “Utopia,” literally means “the place that is no place.” Samuel Butler understood this which is why he titled his novel Erewhon, an imperfect anagram for the utopia that is “nowhere.” Which such strict and uncompromising rules, life becomes very difficult on today’s college campuses. Students are reluctant to ask questions for fear they might violate the sacrosanct rules of political correctness. Similarly, teachers, especially those who lack tenure, are fearful of not toeing the line. Administrators worry about losing enrollment and troubling protests. Building a Utopia is serious business and no concessions should be made.
Unity is in truth. Without truth, distrust, dissension, and degeneration become inevitable. Truth is attainable, though it requires effort. This is why education is institutional and staffed by qualified personnel. We are confronted with a choice: education or barbarism.

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(Dr. Donald DeMarco is a professor emeritus of St. Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. His latest books, How to Navigate Through Life and Apostles of the Culture of Life, are posted on amazon.com.)

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