There is, in America today, an unfortunate “dumbing down” of our culture. Schools, which once truly educated, are now obsessed with a drill and kill “teach to the test” model that destroys creativity and the ability to think critically. The humanities (remember those?), subjects like literature, philosophy, and history, along with exposure to the various arts (painting, music, theatre, dance, etc.)—the very disciplines which help us to think, enrich our imaginations, and promote a feeling of empathy for other human beings—are getting short shrift as a “brave new world,” market-based, technocratic model of education roots itself firmly in place at all levels from kindergarten through college.
The ruination of American education has to do with the wrongheaded idea that the entire purpose of schooling is to train people narrowly for the workforce. Never mind such noble conceptions of education that have been around since ancient Greece—the Socratic search for truth; Aristotle’s notion of “the good life”—or John Dewey’s concern for educating citizens to live in a democracy. Let alone Stanley Aronowitz’s call to educate for critical thinking; Maxine Greene’s project to “release the imagination” via the arts; or Paulo Freire’s desire to link education with the creation of a more just, caring and egalitarian society: a world in which it would be “easier to love.”
All these great ideas have been thrown under the bus as our joyless education bureaucrats, including Obama’s education czar Arne Duncan—who wants to put a stop to teaching classic novels like The Catcher & the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird—continue to promote a new dark age of the mind and soul. Americans are fast becoming a nation of thoughtless, unreflective, obedient dolts. Soulless zombies who drift through the day working jobs they hate, then return home (i-podded to the gills) to veg out on corporate media devoid of any real ideas or content. Naturally, they’re also “allowed” to vote every few years for empty suit, corporate zombie candidates who have no interest in solving these vexing problems and creating a nation of citizens equipped to actually think. Heavens no. That might lead to the creation of, dare I say, a real democracy.
Given this depressing context, and the difficulty of changing schools significantly in the short term, the role of intellectual magazines that promote critical thinking cannot be stressed enough. Reading such a magazine is also a great way for someone whose education was shortchanged by studying business in college to begin learning real stuff; and to ignite a genuine curiosity about art, ideas, and a substantive politics of hope. Imagine a Hudson County based version of The Brooklyn Rail, for example, or of Partisan Review—whose former editor, Edith Kurzweil, recently appeared as a guest on a TV show I co-produce with my wife Claudia.
Is Hudson County ready for its intellectual moment in the sun? I have faith it might be.