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Closing of the American Mind

Closing of the American Mind

How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy & Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students

by Allan Bloom
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Hardcover, 392 pages
Current Retail Price: $18.45

"....man is a being who must take his orientation by his possible perfection."

Saul Bellow is right—in his foreword to The Closing of the American Mind he notes that Allan Bloom doesn't resemble a university professor so much as a thinker and a writer. Bloom is wise. It would doubtless have been easy to simply rant against what he sees as a failed system, but his intellectual profundity is tempered with restraint. He is also gracious, but that doesn't keep him from attack when necessary.

The title is somewhat misleading. While the mind is certainly his starting point, Bloom's real concern seems to be the closing of the American soul (as the above quotation indicates). This shouldn't be taken in a strictly religious sense; for Bloom, the soul is the understanding, the human element that demands exploration and care. What he suggests Americans have done to the soul is almost as scary as what Nazism did to Germans' souls.

Americans, he says, promote a single virtue—tolerance. Behind tolerance is relativism, and the result of relativism at the university level has been to make the curriculum all-inclusive, with the exception of the humanities, particularly in their classic manifestations. Students are no longer familiar with Virgil or Dante or the stories behind Michelangelo's paintings; if they know literature at all, it's The Catcher in the Rye or maybe comic books.

Relativism closes minds rather than opening them. Bloom demonstrates how higher education in America has failed its students by teaching a single attitude rather than providing a base of knowledge to facilitate genuine thought. Engaging his topic philosophically, historically and evidentially, Bloom's erudition is consistently impressive and compelling.

While he takes aim at the Left, Bloom is no less harsh on the Right. This isn't a political tract; it's an indictment of a system that keeps students enslaved to a worldview that necessarily inhibits growth. At once erudite and accessible (though not easy), The Closing of the American Mind was originally published in 1987 and is already considered a classic. Should be required reading for anyone devoted to teaching or learning.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating
FLAWS: Bloom's conservatism is ideological rather than religious
Summary: The classic warning shot fired against the rise of relativism in education and its perilous effects.

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