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Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students [Anglais] [Broché]

Saul Bellow , Andrew Ferguson , Allan Bloom
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Description de l'ouvrage

3 avril 2012
THE BRILLIANT AND CONTROVERSIAL CRITIQUE OF AMERICAN CULTURE WITH NEARLY A MILLION COPIES IN PRINT

 In 1987, eminent political philosopher Allan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind, an appraisal of contemporary America that “hits with the approximate force and effect of electroshock therapy” (The New York Times) and has not only been vindicated, but has also become more urgent today. In clear, spirited prose, Bloom argues that the social and political crises of contemporary America are part of a larger intellectual crisis: the result of a dangerous narrowing of curiosity and exploration by the university elites.

Now, in this twenty-fifth anniversary edition, acclaimed author and journalist Andrew Ferguson contributes a new essay that describes why Bloom’s argument caused such a furor at publication and why our culture so deeply resists its truths today.

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THE CLEAN SLATE

I used to think that young Americans began whatever education they were to get at the age of eighteen, that their early lives were spiritually empty and that they arrived at the university clean slates unaware of their deeper tires and the world beyond their superficial experience. The contrast between them and their European counterparts was set in high relief in the European novels and movies into which we were initiated at the university. The Europeans got most of the culture they were going to get from their homes and their public schools, lyceés, or gymnasiums, where their souls were incorporated into their specific literary traditions, which in turn expressed, and even founded, their traditions as peoples. It was not imply or primarily that these European schoolchildren had a vastly more sophisticated knowledge of the human heart than we were accustomed to in the young or, for that matter, the old. It was that their self-knowledge mediated by their book learning and that their ambitions were formed as much by models first experienced in books as in everyday life. Their books had a substantial existence in everyday life and constituted much of what their society as a whole looked up to. It was commonplace for children of what they called good families to fill their imaginations with hopes of serious literary or philosophic careers, as do ours with hopes of careers in entertainment or business. All this was given to them early on, and by the time they were in their late teens it was part of the equipment of their souls, a lens through which they saw everything and which would affect all their later learning and experience. They went to the university to specialize.

Young Americans seemed, in comparison, to be natural savages when they came to the university. They had hardly heard the names of the writers who were the daily fare of their counterparts across the Atlantic, let alone took it into their heads that they could have a relationship to them. "What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?" They belonged to the whole world, using their reason to see the things all men have in common, to solve the problems of survival, all the time innocently and unaware trampling on the altars sacred to the diverse peoples and nations of the earth who believe themselves constituted by their particular gods and heroes rather than by the common currency of the body. This American intellectual obtuseness could seem horrifying and barbarous, a stunting of full humanity, an incapacity to experience the beautiful, an utter lack of engagement in the civilization's ongoing discourse.

But for me, and for many better observers, this constituted a large part of the charm of American students. Very often natural curiosity and love of knowing appeared to come into their own in the first flush of maturity. Without traditional constraints or encouragements, without society's rewards and punishments, without snobbism or exclusivity, some Americans discovered that they had a boundless thirst for significant awareness, that their souls had spaces of which they were unaware and which cried out for furnishing. European students whom I taught always knew all about Rousseau and Kant, but such writers had been drummed into them from childhood and, in the new world after the war, they had become routine, as much a part of childhood's limitations as short pants, no longer a source of inspiration. So these students became suckers for the new, the experimental. But for Americans the works of the great writers could be the bright sunlit uplands where they could find the outside, the authentic liberation for which this essay is a plea. The old was new for these American students, and in that they were right, for every important old insight is perennially fresh. It is possible that Americans would always lack the immediate, rooted link to the philosophic and artistic achievements that appear to be part of the growth of particular cultures. But their approach to these works bespoke a free choice and the potential for man as man, regardless of time, place, station or wealth, to participate in what is highest. It would be a sad commentary on the human condition if the brotherhood of man is founded on what is lowest in him, while the higher cultivation required unbridgeably separate "cultures." The American disposition gave witness to an optimistic belief that the two universalities, of the body and of the soul, are possible, that access to the best is not dependent on chance. Young Americans, that is, some young Americans, gave promise of a continuing vitality for the tradition because they did not take it to be tradition.

The enchanting prospect provided by the American student was particularly powerful when I first started teaching good undergraduates in this country in the years just after Sputnik. In 1965 I wrote:

The current generation of students is unique and very different in outlook from its teachers. I am referring to the good students in the better colleges and universities, those to whom a liberal education is primarily directed and who are the objects of a training which presupposes the best possible material. These young people have never experienced the anxieties about simple physical well-being that their parents experienced during the depression. They have been raised in comfort and with the expectation of ever increasing comfort. Hence they are largely indifferent to it; they are not proud of having acquired it and have not occupied themselves with the petty and sometimes deforming concerns necessary to its acquisition. And, because they do not particularly care about it, they are more willing to give it up in the name of grand ideals; as a matter of fact, they are eager to do so in the hope of proving that they are not attached to it and are open to higher callings. In short, these students are a kind of democratic version of an aristocracy. The unbroken prosperity of the last twenty years gives them the confidence that they can always make a living. So they are ready to undertake any career or adventure if it can be made to appear serious. The ties of tradition, family, and financial responsibility are weak And, along with all this, goes an open, generous character. They tend to be excellent students and extremely grateful for anything they learn. A look at this special group tends to favor a hopeful prognosis for the count's moral and intellectual health.

There was, at that moment, a spiritual yearning, a powerful tension of the soul which made the university atmosphere electric. The Soviets' beating us into space shocked the nation and, for a moment, leveling education was set back on its heels. There seemed to be no time for that nonsense. Survival itself depended on better education for the best people. External necessity injected into the easygoing educational world the urgency that should always be there. Money and standards emerged in the twinkling of an eye. The goal was to produce scientific technicians who would save us from being at the mercy of tyrants. The high schools concentrated on math and physics, and there was honor and the promise of great futures for those who excelled in them. The Scholastic Aptitude Test became authoritative. Intellectual effort became a national pastime. The mere exercise of unused and flabby muscles is salutary, and the national effort both trained and inspired the mind. The students were better, more highly motivated.

Then I began to notice strange things. For example, for the first time, American students were really learning languages. And there were the signs of an incipient longing for something else. Science had been oversold. The true scientific vocation is very rare, and in the high schools it was presented in technical and uninspired fashion. The students apparently learned what they were asked to learn, but boredom was not wholly compensated for by great expectations. The new mental activity and desire for achievement had not quite found their objects. I observed that many of the best students' dedication to science was very thin. The great theoretical difficulty of modern natural science -- that it cannot explain why it is good -- was having its practical effect. The why question was coming close to the surface. As a result, although the sole interest of the public officials was in natural science, social science and the humanities also began to profit (inasmuch as the universities could not avoid saying they counted too). A little liberal learning easily attracted many of the most gifted away from natural science. They felt the alternatives had been hidden from them. And, once in the university, they could, this being a free country, change their minds about their interests when they discovered that there is something in addition to science. It was a tense moment, full of cravings that lacked clearly perceived goals.

I was convinced in the early sixties that what was wanted was a liberal education to give such students the wherewithal to examine their lives and survey their potential. This was the one thing the universities were unequipped and unwilling to offer them. The students' wandering and way. ward energies finally found a political outlet. By the mid-sixties universities were offering them every concession other than education, but appeasement failed and soon the whole experiment in excellence was washed away, leaving not a trace. The various liberations wasted that marvelous energy and tension, leaving the students' souls exhausted and flaccid, capable of calculating, but not of passionate insight.

It may very well be that I was wrong, that what was building up in the early sixties was only a final assault on the last remaining inhibitions, that the appearance of intellectual longing was really only a version of the most powerful of modern longings -- for the overcoming of necessity, tension, and conflict, a resting of the soul from its eternal travail. I still think, however, that there was much of true intellectual longing, and it only ended in relaxation as a result of our wasted opportunities.

But the st...

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“Brilliant. . . . No other book combines such shrewd insights into our current state. . . . No other book is at once so lively and so deep, so witty and so thoughtful, so outrageous and so sensible, so amusing and so chilling.. . . An extraordinary book.”
—William Kristol, The Wall Street Journal

“Rich and absorbing. . . . A grand tour of the American mind.”
The Washington Post Book World

Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 400 pages
  • Editeur : Simon & Schuster; Édition : Reissue (3 avril 2012)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 9781451683202
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451683202
  • ASIN: 1451683200
  • Dimensions du produit: 5,6 x 8,3 x 1 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Très intéressant 22 mai 2013
Par Meursault TOP 1000 COMMENTATEURS
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Dans cet ouvrage de référence, Allan Bloom dresse un portrait critique de l'éducation aux Etats-Unis après 1945, insistant en particulier sur les dégâts de ce que, par défaut, on qualifierait de pédagogisme en France, ou bien sur l'emprise de la culture de masse sur les esprits, alors que l'intérêt pour les humanités décline.

Un ouvrage qui marqua l'Amérique et mérite d'être lu en France aussi, tant ce qu'il peut y dire y est transposable facilement, et doit amener à réfléchir les tenants du nivellement par le bas.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Bloom deserves to be read more carefully 8 janvier 2002
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When The Closing of The American Mind was published in 1987, it instantly ignited a firestorm of praise and condemnation. Conservatives hailed it as vindication of their long-ignored criticisms about American culture in general and higher education in particular. Liberals denounced it as elitist and intolerant, and they said Bloom wanted to keep students ignorant of other cultures so he could indoctrinate them with his. Neither side had it right. The Closing of The American Mind is, as Bloom put it in his preface, "a meditation on the state of our souls."
Both sides were wrong about the book because they didn't read it carefully enough. Liberals read Bloom's argument for philosophy as an attempt to purge non-white, non-European writers from the cannon on grounds of cultural purity. Conservatives read his plea as an attempt to run all the liberal professors out of academia and replace them with conservatives. But a careful reading of Bloom would quickly prove both of these interpretations false.
Bloom believed Plato's cave was culture, whether that culture was western or not (after all, it was Plato's description of his own culture that created the idea of the cave). Bloom's argument was that students should be forced to read the works of the great philosophers because those writers are the only ones who dealt with the fundamental question of life: what is man. Bloom believed it was the university's mission to equip students with the tools that would enable them to seek the answer to this question and to lead a philosophical life. Only the great philosophers were capable of introducing students to the deepest and most profound life, and without this introduction, students would forever remain in their respective caves.
Bloom never was a conservative, nor was he one who wished to impose his "culture" on others. Simply put, he was a scholar who wished to make his students think - to truly think - about the nature of their existence and of society. The goal of Bloom's book was to show how Americans of all political persuasions, social backgrounds and economic conditions are debating within a narrow modern world-view and have simply accepted as fact a mushy blend of modern theory that repeatedly contradicts itself and stands in sharp contrast to an almost entirely forgotten world of opposing thought: that of the ancients.
In other words, Americans are incapable of true self-examination and self-understanding because they are ignorant of ancient philosophy, which poses the only alternative to the modern concept of man. What Bloom does with The Closing of The American Mind is expose the great Oz by asking him life's deepest questions. Bloom asks the same questions of today's professors and students that the ancient philosophers asked of themselves and their students. He finds that not only does no one have an answer, but no one even understands the questions.
Bloom's confrontation exposes the modern American university for what it really is: one big self-esteem seminar where students are taught self-validation instead of self-examination. Professors are not forcing students to confront the most serious questions of life, but rather are handing them scrolls of paper certifying that the university has bestowed on them qualities which, in fact, they already possessed, those being "openness" and "tolerance."
Of students, Bloom writes, "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 and natural rights that used to be the traditional grounds for a free society."
The university, he shows, does nothing to contest this belief, but feeds it instead. The end result is that there can be no more truth or goodness and no need or even ability to make tough choices. Where the purpose of higher education once was to enable the student to find truth, the modern university teaches that there is no truth, only "lifestyle."
There exist in the world polar opposites. Bloom lists "reason-revelation, freedom-necessity, democracy-aristocracy, good-evil, body-soul, self-other, city-man, eternity-time, being-nothing." Serious thought requires recognition of the existence of these opposites and the choice of one over the other. "A serious life means being fully aware of the alternatives, thinking about them with all the intensity one brings to bear on life-and-death questions, in full recognition that every choice is a great risk with necessary consequences that are hard to bear," Bloom says.
He argues persuasively that the modern university does not force students to confront these alternatives at all, much less seriously think about them. Therefore, the modern university fails in its purpose, which is to create students aware of the vast array of possibilities that life offers and capable of choosing the good life.
Bloom has been harshly, and is still continually, accused of trying to force his own ideology on his students. But even a cursory reading of The Closing of The American Mind will disprove this silly accusation. Bloom simply wanted to make students think, to make them understand that there are different ideas of what man is and that they must confront these ideas if they wish to lead a meaningful life. This, he believed, was the university's purpose because it is there and only there that students would be exposed to alternatives to the prevailing intellectual trends. Life will happen to the students, he said, they don't need the university to provide it for them. They need the university to equip them for making the choices that will lead them to the best, most fulfilling life - the philosophical life. It is precisely for this reason that universities exist, and it is precisely this task that they now fail to accomplish.
Bloom's book remains important a decade after its publication because of the depth of Bloom's intellect and the thoroughness of his analysis. Only the last third of The Closing of The American Mind focuses on the modern university. Bloom spends the first two-thirds of the book explaining the modern mind-set and contrasting it with the ancient and the enlightened. He demonstrates the shallowness of the modern mind by repeatedly beating it about the head with Aristotle, Plato, Rousseau, Tocqueville, Hobbes, Locke, Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel and Heidegger. With this tactic, Bloom tears apart the vapid pop psychology that passes as deep thought and holds up the shreds for the reader to see their thinness.
But Bloom's attack is also instruction. Through it he takes the reader on an intellectual history tour in which he tracks the evolution of modern thought. Focusing on key words in today's usage, such as "lifestyle," "relationship" and "commitment," he retraces them through history to discover their origins and their true meanings. He then contrasts these words with the ones they replaced, such as "duty," "honor," "love." The depth and complexity of the ancient concepts overpowers the shallow convenience of the modern ones. Bloom tells how, when he showed this contrast to his students, they didn't care. Worse, they recoiled at the very thought of being bound by duty or honor or love as opposed to being committed to relationships via contract.
This contrast is at the heart of Bloom's book: whether humans are truth-seeking creatures who live for the purpose of pleasing God and discovering the good, or whether they are truth-creating creatures who live only for the purpose of satisfying their animal needs and preventing the bad. Bloom believes the former, modernity the latter. Bloom knew that his book would not solve the question or ennoble America. But it would reintroduce the question, which is all that he wanted the university to do. It is tragic that, as he predicted, the universities would cast him out as a heretic instead of making themselves his disciples.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 A masterpiece. 14 janvier 2000
Par David C. Moses - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Nearly all of us Americans say that we believe in liberty and equality. But how many of us would be able to defend these beliefs against an attack by a really intelligent anti-egalitarian such as Nietzsche? Our regime was founded on the idea that reason, not religion or brute force, should rule. It was not always obvious that such a regime was either good or possible, and arguments had to be made to convince people to support its creation. The Enlightenment philosophers provided those arguments. As Bloom notes, the Enlightenment brought the philosopher (i.e., reason) and the regime into harmony as they never had been before. (Socrates, the archetypical philosopher, had of course been executed for impiety.) Rousseau, while agreeing with the the fundamental Enlightenment idea of equality, argued forcefully that reason alone could not found and sustain a society, and in the process invented the modern idea of the bourgeois, the product of the reason-based society, hatred of which was an important element of both Marxism and fascism. But it was Nietzsche who provided the really devastating attack, arguing that listening to our heads rather than our hearts had killed what was really worthwhile in us, that we need to stop reasoning and start coming up with new "values."
The middle chapters of the book are the best overview of political philosophy that I have come across. Bloom understands Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Nietzsche as I believe they would have wanted to be understood. Especially Nietzsche, whose ideas are described with the utmost respect, even though it is implicit that if we are to keep our regime we ultimately must reject those ideas. The sections on "Values" and "Culture," which describe how some German ideas with a great deal of nobility in them mutated when they got to America, are riveting.
Bloom can see that our regime, even as it prospers economically, is in crisis. We Americans mouth the words of Jefferson, but really believe Nietzsche. We do not believe in the primacy of reason. Equality and liberty are nothing more than prejudices for most of us. They are merely "values," and if pressed, most of us would not be able to explain why we like those values better than other ones. Regimes decay for a variety of reasons, one of which is internal contradiction, as in the fall of the Soviet Union. The American regime, with its emphasis on human rights, liberty and equality, is based on the primacy of reason. If most Americans do not now believe in the primacy of reason, then our regime has an internal contradiction. I take Bloom to be saying that this contradiction has come about because those in a position to educate the rest of us have failed to do so. That is where the opening and closing sections on young people and university education come in. Those sections are interesting (and obviously near and dear to Bloom's heart) even if not as informative as the middle chapters, and, even if the section on music is flawed as some other readers have pointed out, they provide concrete examples and describe consequences of the intellectual crisis.
"The Closing of the American Mind" is at the top of my all-time non-fiction list. To me, Bloom is as interesting to read as the thinkers whose thought he describes so well. I believe that in a few years his masterpiece will be seen as a classic of democratic political thought.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 A masterpiece on philosophy and education in our times. 7 avril 1999
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Bloom begins with the problem of liberal education at the end of the 20th century - in a world where students are taught from childhood that "values" are relative and that tolerance is the first virtue, too many students arrive at college without knowing what it means to really believe in anything. They think they are open-minded but their minds are closed to the one thing that really matters: the possibility of absolute truth, of absolute right and wrong. In explaining where we are and how we got here, Bloom presents a devastating critique of modern American education and its students, an intellectual history of the United States and its unique foundation in Enlightenment philosophy, and an assesment of the project of liberal education.
Far from being just another critic of the latest postmodern fad or the ongoing excesses of academic relativism, Bloom has his eye on the ages - his subject is our place in history and our relationship to the canon of philosophy handed down to us over centuries. This book isn't about the last few decades of academic decline, it's about the last few centuries of philosophical upheaval and uncertainty.
Bloom's pessimism about the future prospects of liberal education (and Enlightenment liberalism generally) isn't entirely warranted, but then that's partially because so many of Bloom's readers have taken his warnings seriously and labored to reverse the academic trends he identified so clearly. If the light at the end of the tunnel is now dimly visible, in large part we have Bloom to thank for it.
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Articulate, insightful, poetic, flawed. 22 février 2006
Par Nicholas Leach - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
This is a powerful, well-written book, but I think it tells us a lot more about Mr. Bloom than it does about the contemporary (or at least 1980s) university system. Bloom decries the fact that American college students (possibly, he thinks, because of a problem with secondary education) no longer have heroes or wrestle with the Great Books or think critically about politics or each other. He holds up European students as a possible paradigm--with their own problems, of course, but more firmly culturally situated than Americans. My problem is not with these assertions, but with the subtle "no longer" attached to them, as if everyone used to have the same experiences Mr. Bloom had and now doesn't anymore. When was the golden age of the American university? The 1950s? The 1920s? The 1850s? Mr. Bloom's own experience--he entered the University of Chicago at the age of 15 and studied under giants like Leo Strauss and Richard McKeon--is so atypical as to blind him to other realities of the university experience. He decries the push for formal training, brilliantly stating that if that's all college is for, no one needs four years; but again, that subtle "no longer" is attached.

He also gets some facts plain wrong. He says that nearly everyone in the middle-class has a college degree; this just isn't the case, as the overall percentage of Americans with college degrees is now, in 2006, 18 years later, around 28%. He also says that every student these days is a relativist to some degree, and while there may be a greater preponderance of relativists in the elite universities Mr. Bloom is used to, this doesn't count the hundreds of thousands of students at Christian colleges, in public universities, and in specialized and technical schools.

His grasp of philosophy and the relationship between ideologies and ideas is spectacular; the book is gripping and poetic and a great read. But his arguments could have been much more narrow and thus much more powerful.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 A book that made a difference 28 novembre 2005
Par A reader - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
The Closing of the American Mind was a unique book for me, in that it showed me why I felt a lack of education after graduating from college. It was one of those books that made me want to read more books, which I hope is the goal of every good educator. I was struck by the way Bloom described a lot of everyday realities with new eyes, and although there were a lot of things I didn't understand in the course of reading this book, I found he was right about most. He helped me understand why things are the way they are today. Covering several thousand years of philosophy and culture is ambitious, to say the least, but I found the digressions informative and interesting. Despite the complexity of Bloom's topics, his point is really quite simple and straightforward. The modern university can no longer impart a coherent education to its students. The university can no longer agree on what 'must be taught'.

Choice is all the rage for college students today - and while course rosters are overflowing with new electives - the humanties have become so splintered that a liberal education now resembles a mere buffet of knowledge. Today, only technical courses have measurable use after commencement. The liberal arts university has always raved about transforming students into better thinkers - light, truth, wisdom, et. al - but in modern times, this high-minded goal exists in word only. The reality is that relativism, post-modernism and a variety of political movements have eroded 'truth' into 'worldview' and 'cultural values'. If truth cannot be obtained, and judgement cannot be employed for fear of being deemed intolerant, then what you have is the modern university: biased, pedantic, myopic, and ultimately, useless. It saddens me to say that because I graduated from one of the oldest, most-highly regarded American universities with a liberal arts degree. Out of respect for my alma mater I won't name names. Not that names matter - the atmosphere Bloom describes in the first chapters of the book were everyday realities in his day - they still are today, half a country away. You may not agree with Bloom in the end, but this book will acquaint today's college student with some legitimately new ideas. They were simply oblivious to them.

The ills he diagnoses are the best part of the book. Everyone has a horror story, it seems. For example, in four years of higher learning, I never saw Plato once on the syllabus. Before you write that off as anecdote, I'd like to say that I took about the same type classes/perspectives as about any other college student. Plato just wasn't deemed a necessary part, or perhaps everyone assumed someone else would cover it. It was only after graduation (and an itch from the lack of knowledge I felt) that I finally read the Apology, the Republic, and many other classics. After that, I felt jobbed by some erstwhile professors, well-meaning though they were. I could tell you plenty about post-antebellum race riots and American hegemony, but had never heard of the Socratic method. That is today's university in a nutshell. My education would have ended there if I hadn't kept reading...how many others' did end there? Although Bloom spends much of his book diagnosing the problem facing modern universities, he also proposes a cure: the Great Books program. Now, I'll be the first to admit that this isn't a panacea, and I'm fairly sure that even Bloom didn't feel that way. If so, the book fails in that regard. But to me, the reason he proposed that as solution is clear.

Books allow us to live many more lives than just our own - it provides us with a perspective that reaches far beyond our 70-80 years of personal experience. You know what they say about people who forget the lessons of history, after all. Also, the book helped me understand that Western Civilization was successful for a reason - not just due to bloodlust, which you'll probably be told throughout college. No - historically, we have measured the world with our science, we have explored the horizons with our curiousity, and we have questioned the very essence of what it means to be human, which carried us to the head of the pack. But if you acknowledge that there is much good to go along with the bad to some people, you will be called racist, sexist, and thus irredeemable. The university is the defender of the flame in a very real sense. When the stewards of our heritage don't care for the treasures left in their care, why should anyone else? If something doesn't change, that flame may well flicker out, leaving the world a dimmer place. This book is a good first step against that.
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