Monday, April 18, 2011

Closing of the American Mind: Teachers and the Cave

Closing of the American Mind, Part 1.

It's like seeing strands of thought, floating up from the pages like a cobra being enticed from his basket with a tune.  These strands weave and spin themselves together, along with ones already present, to create new webs.  Yes, that's a good metaphor, webs, just as the spider that spins them together to glisten in the sunlit dew.  Spin one thread, and tie it to the center, and tie it to the circumference of the web with like strands, until the web is complete, except for this, it never is.

I wish to record the strands coming from this book, Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, because so many lines in the book come out as strands of thought and connect to other ones in my head.  Ones that must be tied together in words.  And this is, after all, what this blog is all about.  The number at the start of each section corresponds with the number I have in the book (makes it easier for me to reference it), along with the quote, and then my thoughts. It'll make it less rambly.  Hope this works. 
1. Teaching can be a threat to philosophy because philosophizing is a solitary quest, and he who pursues it must never look to an audience. (20)
Let's go back into Plato's cave for a second.  Say the philosopher, the man with new knowledge, a new outlook on life because he's gone outside and seen the world, goes back in and realizes that his peers don't want to listen to him.  They don't want to learn. They're too busy watching Jersey Shore on the cave wall.  Should you even want to try and reach those students who simply don't care about knowledge or forwarding the human race, but rather would be entertained by those who would create those images? I learned long ago that, even in the 8th grade classes I taught, there are only a handful, probably 5%, that would be interested in leaving the cave.

But enough cynicism. I thought that teaching would be about me imparting the knowledge which I had accumulated to the minds of the students I had in front of me.  Turns out, it's the accumulation of knowledge that I am interested in, not the teaching of it.  I am, as Jung would say, an Introvert. My locus is inside myself. I draw energy from the connection my brain makes from within. I've always told my fellow workers, after I've told a particularly bad joke, that as long as it makes me laugh, I don't care. Because while I entertain the  people that I am around, I do it because it make me feel good.  I learn and process information, I write these blogs, because I want to learn and to amass knowledge.  I want to be, in some respects, much like Faust, although without the whole making a deal with the devil thing.  And the more I learn, the more connections I make between thinkers and writers and life, the further I will be along the road to understanding how the world works.  And I write those things in this blog for those who would like to see what conclusions I've drawn. I've said from the beginning that I really don't care who reads them.  It is your choice. It sounds so selfish, to hold knowledge inside, and you'd be right. But it is man's desire to re-enter the cave and plead and beg his peers to come outside, no matter how much they will ignore him. Teaching, as Allan Bloom talks about later, is something that a philosopher must do in order to achieve the satisfaction in reaching those conclusions. It is the climax of the process.

2. There is no real teacher who in practice does not believe in the existence of the soul, or in a magic that acts on it through speech. The soul, so the teacher must think, may at the onset of education require extrinsic rewards and punishments to motivate its activity; but in the end that activity is its own reward and is self-sufficient. (20)

The problem is that education has become less about the speaking to the soul of students and more about teaching to the CRCT test so that the school can receive increased funding. Or, if you talk about college, and Bloom mentions this later, that the training of students into fields that are monetarily successful far outshines any need to enhance the human mind or reach into the soul and turn on that spark that ignites the desire for learning.  It is done by the direct need for rewards, money, fame, power, and less by a need to further their own knowledge. As I said before, only about 5% get to that stage. And those of us who reach that point are destined to stay at college forever (either as student or professor) or stuck in menial jobs, scanning groceries and making subs at Subway. The absolute rarity is that philosopher that can apply his learning, mold the world into something wonderful, become the producers, the makers of mankind.

(I thought of this song as I was writing the last paragraph.)

So this is how this'll go, and I'll post some along, so that eventually I'll have done the whole book.

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