Education in our times must try to
find whatever there is in students
that might yearn for completion,
and to reconstruct the learning that
would enable them autonomously
to seek that completion.
Allan David Bloom was born on September 14, 1930 in Indianapolis. He
was educated in Indianapolis public schools until the age of sixteen when
his family moved to Chicago. He then enrolled in the University of Chicago
where he earned his B.A. degree in 1949, his M.A. degree in 1953, and his
Ph.D. from the Committee on Social Thought in 1955. He also studied and
taught abroad in Paris from 1953 – 1955 and in Heidelberg in 1957. He taught
at the Universities of Chicago, Yale, Cornell, and the University of Toronto.
After returning from Toronto he went back to Chicago where he remained
his death as a professor in the Committee on Social Thought. Bloom was
a professor of social thought and a noted translator of Plato and Rousseau.
Bloom believed that a liberal education with a judicious use of great texts
was the essential element of education. Bloom believed that the Great Books
were the vehicles of the best of 2500 years of reflection on the most permanent
and important questions one can face as an individual and as society. Bloom
firmly believed that a person could not truly examine life except through
serious sustained study and thought on these texts. He so strongly believed
this, that he attained the mastery of classical Greek and French, and then
used them both for his own learning and that of his future students by
translating Rousseau’s Emile and Plato’s Republic. He authored and translated
many works during his lifetime. A list of these works follows in best selling
1. The Closing of the American Mind
2. Plato’s The Republic (Bloom translation)
3. Emile: Or on education (Bloom translation)
4. Shakespeare on Love and Friendship
5. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phemenology of Spirit
6. Shakespeare’s Politics (with Jaffa)
7. Politics and the Arts (Bloom translator)
8. Xenophon’s Socrates (with Leo Strauss)
His book, The Closing of the American Mind, is essential reading in
order to understand Bloom’s thought and the decay of the modern university.
It was with this
publication in1987 that Bloom argues that the social and political crisis of twentieth century America is really an intellectual crisis. Bloom blamed high technology, the
sexual revolution, and the introduction of cultural diversity into the curriculum at the expense of the classics, which in turn produced students without wisdom or values. According to Bloom, American democracy has unwittingly played host to vulgarized continental ideas of nihilism and despair, and of relativism disguised as tolerance. Bloom makes a convincing case for the proposition that reading old books about the permanent questions could help reestablish reason and restore the soul.
The book can easily be divided into three parts. The first part characterizes
the moral and intellectual state of modern university students. He stated
that “students these days are in general nice. I choose the word carefully.
They are not particularly moral or noble.” He attributes these feelings
to moral relativism, instant
gratification, and the poverty of the students’ education. The second part of the book traces the roots of modern intellectual and relativism. The last section of the book is a discussion of the proper relationships between the student, university, and society. Allan Bloom was a “psychologist” in the classical sense, thus a perennialist. He sought to deepen souls while educating sentiments, to give his students contact with greatness, and to make everyone aware of the transcendent. Aristophanes, Plato, Shakespeare, and Rousseau are needed to help students think, and to teach them how to lead their lives. Bloom puts himself at the center of this by the sheer force of his observations. He lays the blame for the closing of the American mind on the current value of openness. The American mind is closed because in advocating the value relativism, people are open to anything and everything, a move which enslaves us to the particular. An example of this would be Plato’s simile of a cave. A cave seems from the outside to be a great opening, something everyone wants to have. However, the cave-dweller can only look at and appreciate other people’s caves while abandoning the quest for the sun. Thus, what has been advertised as a great opening is in fact a great closing. Bloom was and is important to education because of his intellect, allowing him to translate famous works to be shared by many. He also proved with his theory of “openness” in America today that there is a need for a reinvention of the universities in America. He referred to “openness” as a relativism that declares that all endeavors are of
equal value – the study of Shakespeare is equal to the study of basketweaving. He believed that universities chose whatever was popular and easy to understand in society currently as the curriculum for the university. Bloom also referred to an openness to study historical and cultural texts and materials in their original form, and be open to develop one’s own thoughts from them rather than accepting them at first glance with the opinions of so-called experts in the field of their textbooks. He suggested that in order to re-invigorate college and university curriculum the universities must return to the use of original texts and materials. For example, one should study Dante’s Inferno rather than a synopsis of classical poems.
Bloom died October 7, 1992 while being hospitalized for peptic ulcer bleeding complicated by liver failure. At the time of his death he was co-director of the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy.
Barnes and Nobles. July5, 2000. Barnes and Nobles.com-Book Search.
Biographical Dictionary of Modern American Educators. Frederick Ohles, Shirley M. Ohles, and John G. Ramsey. Westport, CT. Greenwood Press, 1997.
Creative Quotations from Allan Bloom. July 5, 2000. http://www.bemorecreative.com/one/1785.htm
Cassimatis, Nicholas. July 5, 2000. Upstream: Upstream: Hmm Allan
Bloom Obituary. http://cycad.com/cgi-bin/Upstream/Reading/albloom-obituary.html
Cyber Nation International. July5, 2000. TPCN – Great Quotations (Quotes) By Allan Bloom to Inspire and Motivate You To Achieve. http://www.cyber-nation.com/victory/quotations/authors/quotes_bloom_allan.html
The Closing of the American Mind. Allan Bloom. New York. Simon and Schuster. 1987.
Weinstein, Kenneth. 2000. The Real Allan Bloom. The Weekly Standard
Magazine, 5, 32. http://www.weeklystandard.com/magazine/mag_5_32_00/weinstein_bkar_5_32_0.html
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