The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History

The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History

The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History

The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History

Synopsis

"In recent years there has been a spate of right-wing books attacking the contemporary university. The idea that the university curriculum has been hijacked by radical professors is an article of faith among conservatives and has fueled more than one best-seller. Until now, there has been no forceful, accessible book responding in a comprehensive way for a wide audience. In The Opening of the American Mind, MacArthur award-winning historian Lawrence W. Levine - whose work Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has called "required reading for everyone interested in American culture and its history" - takes back the debate with a powerful argument about universities, history, and American identity. Levine shows, first of all, that conservative critics of the university are both systematically wrong and ignorant of history. The canon that they claim is immutable has always been a living thing - shifting with the politics and society of the times. As recently as the late nineteenth century, the very literature the conservatives are nostalgic for was viewed as peripheral; even the president of Yale warned against the perils of studying English or American literature. The western civilization curriculum sixties liberals are accused of dismantling was out of favor before they ever became professorsand was itself the result of a government program after World War I to ensure that American values were taught in the university, not the result of politically neutral inquiry and consensus. With rigorous analysis and wonderfully entertaining storytelling, Levine shows that the new multicultural shift in American culture and education is not the result of a plot by a cabal of politically correct radical professors, but a reflection of a dynamic of social change that is uniquely American - and that is to be celebrated. Levine argues that critics' attacks mask deeper fears of a multicultural society - fears that have ties to old anxieties about immigration and a loss of American identity. Levine defends a positive picture of social change and a new vision of American identity that is inclusive, democratic, and forward-looking." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

In the Spring of 1981 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund announced that the winner of the competition to design a national memorial to Vietnam War veterans was Maya Ying Lin, a twenty-one-year-old Yale undergraduate from Athens, Ohio. Ms. Lin's design, which was chosen over 1,420 other entries, consisted of two 200-foot-long black granite walls arranged in the shape of an elongated V, sloping down in each direction from where they meet until they appear to recede into the earth. The names of the almost sixty thousand American men and women who died in the war were to be inscribed on the walls not in the order of their rank but in the chronological order of their death. The polished black granite was reflective so that visitors, seeing their own images amid the names on the walls, would feel themselves participants rather than mere spectators.

This design, which is now so familiar to us, aroused immediate outrage. In an editorial entitled STOP THAT MONUMENT the National Review denounced the proposed memorial as "Orwellian glop." The design, it charged, "says that the Vietnam War should be memorialized in black, not in the white marble of Washington. The mode of listing the names makes them individ-

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