It seems many people suspect that there has been something wrong with the quality of a Liberal Arts Education in the United States for some time, and the more serious-minded writers on the subject have tried to address the many broader social and cultural consequences that such a failure might have.
1. Allan Bloom’s Closing of The American Mind (good overview here) has a fairly wide intellectual vision, from Plato’s Republic, to Rousseau’s Emile, to many enduring works of literature. Bloom argues that many forces conspire to prevent American college students from having a platform upon which to engage these works: thus being able to liberate their minds from the current prejudices, beliefs, social and intellectual trends into which they are born. Without a central cultural vision of why these books are important, they, and we, suffer.
Personally, I think some of Bloom’s arguments suggest that he’s partially upset at living in a democracy at all, and his idealism certainly has its dangers, but he lays out some intelligent arguments.
2. Camille Paglia’s consistently offered scathing criticisms of feminism and English department excesses (or the way in which Academies have co-opted 60’s radicalism). Paglia particularly dislikes the way in which many English professors adopted Lacanian and Foucaultian metaphysics and thus in her opinion, pursued intellectual French faddishness at the expense of their students’ learning.
Personally, I think she’s probably upset that English departments will likely always seek some metaphysical ground for their thinking, however faddish…I think Paglia took Nietzsche onboard long ago (as did Lacan and Foucault) , and I take issue with many of her arguments as a result (you can’t always call them arguments). She’s consistently objected to the darker side of feminism, the totalitarian urges and the intellectual threat-making by which it has sometimes succeeded. I find her a healthy voice of dissent.
3. Currently, there is a book out by Anthony Kronman, entitled Education’s End (one review here, another here ). Kronman is a former dean of Yale law school and current professor, not having read the book (yet), I can’t say very much.
The crux of Kronman’s argument though, seems to be similar to Bloom’s, and this line of thinking has become a current staple of the right, who, in my opinion are in danger of holding up the current straw men of feminism, multiculturalism, diversity group-think merely to galvanize their position; regardless of how well-made the arguments. That’s an easy danger anyways.
**Interestingly, Kronman apparently suggests that a German approach to American schooling is partly to blame….I remember first coming across that argument here.
Thanks for reading.