BOOKS 5r THE CULTURE Raging Against Academe BY JAMES MCWILLIAMS Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope By bell hooks Routledge 200 pages, $17.95. Fil or all of the publishing industry’s supposed woes, the topic of educationalong with the memoirremains a rich trough. Writers ironically feed from it so eagerly because education not only affects us all but, if you believe the press, it’s perpetually infected with some kind of creepy and eradicable disease demanding perennial internal probes and Carnegie-funded studies. Policy arguments concerning testing, teacher qualifications, tenure, the canon, vouchers, discipline, curricula, tuition increasesyou name itapparently preoccupy Americans enough for presses to weigh down the Barnes & Noble non-fiction table with wonkish books promising solutions to problems that, in the end, appear profitably immune to the prescribed balm. Panicked jeremiads of our pedagogical demise thus annually reensue, the cycle of problem-mongering sets itself spinning again, and the writers await their dividend checks as ed-school seminars hold earnest discussions about the latest fads. One gets the sense, perustitles, that the underlying problem in the multifaceted mess that is American education transcends the individual issues being discussed. The real problem, common sense dictates, must be less tangible, less identifiable, less specific and, ultimately, more metaphysical than we’ve yet acknowledged. Allan Bloom thought so. Remember that crank? Despite its hoary, reactionary characterization of the 1960s as an indulgent flash of unbuttoned liberalism, The Closing of the American Mind cut to the heart of what Bloom \(albeit core educational dilemma. Tolerance and “openness,” as they played out in the politically correct halls of academe, backfired as pedagogical imperatives because they encouraged a mindset of amour-proprethat is, self-love based on the shallow judgment of popular opinion. Black studies, women’s studies, queer studies, white studies, ethnic studies, urban studies, \(your pet interest mind a superficial expression of amourpropre that actually perpetuated an insidious moral relativism characterized by intellectual flabbiness and articulated through trendy jargon. To interrupt the herd-like pursuit of an allegedly misconstrued notion of diversity, Bloom seized upon Rousseau’s idea of amour-soi promoted a Great Books curriculum designed to perpetuate the timeless lessons of classical antiquity for clueless college students who thought Homer was a cartoon character. Thankfully, nobody was buying his bunk either. But buy the book they certainly did and Bloom, who only wrote The Closing of the American Mind at Saul Bellow’s insistent pleading, ran off and purchased a bunch of $5,000 suits, redecorated his Chicago apartment with Renaissance art, ate at the world’s finest restaurants, held lavish parties, and died of what most University of Chicago insiders believe was AIDS. bell hooks, a black female scholar whose educational philosophy couldn’t diverge more dramatically from Bloom’s, nevertheless shares a critical defining trait in common with that learned dead white male. She need not ponder the trappings of sudden financial success nor, despite the lecture circuit she’s currently pounding, will she come even remotely close to touching the national nerve that Bloom plucked. Nevertheless, in pure Bloomian fashion, hooks eschews specific educational problems demanding policy-oriented solutions in favor of grasping the essential problem of American education as if it were a metaphysical crisis demanding a bold intervention. The self-appointed task says a lot about a scholar. It reveals, for one, a conscious effort to ignore the drastic problems of public financing plaguing public education in the United States. It takes nerve to write a book today about the big picture of American education without so much as a mention of the financial crisis it’s currently enduring. Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol’s classic expose, continues to hang over the educational literature with real justification, and not to acknowledge it even indirectly confirms the abstract or, to be more generous, transcendent tenor of such a book. Second, this kind of book requires some heavy thinking, assumes an unnerving amount of selfconfidence, and necessitates what might be called “theographical voice”that is, a perspective combining a light autobiographical touch with a heavy theoretical emphasis. Few have had the guts to wade into this territory. None have gone so since Bloom than bell hooks has done in her latest contribution to a genre that resists categorization. Of course, I make the Bloom comparison with a smirk, fully aware that it’s akin to saying Beethoven and Rage Against the Machine were alike in that they shared the goal of redefining and redeeming music. And sure enough, Bloom’s and hooks’ similarities go no further than the admirable immodesty of their educational vision. On every other count, they stand diametrically opposed. Whereas Bloom identified America’s educational problem as a 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1/16/04
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