Yesterday morning Margaret and I talked over the New York Times Book Review retrospective on Allan Bloom’s dyspeptic screed in defense of Western Civilization, The Closing of the American Mind. As an advocate for classical learning, I take offense at Bloom’s scattershot demagoguery; while something has indeed been lost in an economy of knowledge wherein (according to the article) more than half of U.S. undergrads major in business, health, education, or computer science, Bloom casts blame on every figure and cause he dislikes, without making the discriminations that justify pretensions to intellectual high ground.
Margaret and I winced at the comparable figures for English and history majors: 1.6 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively. And experience suggests that even the one percent who devote the major part of their undergraduate studies to these topics have not necessarily drunk deep at the Pierian spring. “There’s a reason,” I always exhorted my undergraduate students back when I was teaching college, “that the job fair posters always say “All majors welcome.’ That means, “We’re not looking only for business majors.’ It means your future employers would rather hear you sound sharp, excited, and well-informed about a subject in which you excelled because you cared about it, than to hear you sound formulaic and predictable on the basis of business courses which you took out of a sense that you had to get a salable degree.” So far as I know, my exhortations made no difference (to students who were otherwise inclined toward a business degree; I do know that some of my students from those days took other exhortations and encouragements to heart).
Tonic for an abraded soul, then, to read the dialogue of Tom Matrullo and Phil Cubeta, two admirable souls and (I am honored to say) of my dearest online friends. The American Mind is not closing — but the particular doors and windows by which some inhabitants have gotten used to admitting fresh air may have been painted shut. Would that one of Phil’s philathropists recognized the value proposition of supporting liberal education, with an eye to such benefits as their colloquy exemplifies!