Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Review: "The Closing of the American Heart"

The Closing of the American Heart
By Dr. Ronald Nash

The Closing of the American Heart is a critique of today's school system. Even though Dr. Nash wrote this book in the late 1990, it still seems quite applicable today. What attracted me to this book was first that it was written as a response to Alan Bloom's book The Closing of the American Mind; second that it recognizes the emotions are a critical part of our reasoning process as fallen human beings.

Nash starts out critiquing Bloom's book in Chapter 1. His main critique was that even though Bloom correctly identified an issue in the school system (and traced its history), he did not offer much of a solution. It seems that Nash was thinking that memorizing more facts is not the solution. The problem is the philosophical foundation- hearts set against God to the point that they will accept erroneous conclusions to avoid Him. Although Nash wrote this as a response to Bloom, it seems to me to be more of an addition to Bloom. Bloom answered the questions of "what happened" and "how it happened". Nash offers to answer "why did it happen" and "what should we do about it"

In Chapter 2 Nash discusses the apparent separation of virtue from knowledge in the school system. Pointing out the moral relativism taught in our school systems, Nash reminds us that, "The world is not composed of religious and non-religious people. It is composed rather of religious people who have differing ultimate concerns, different gods, and who respond to the Living God in different ways."1 He makes the point that the school system is not teaching relativism in a vacuum of pure objectivism, but a context of a worldview that holds that man is naturally good, with the exception of a few bad apples.

In Chapter 3 three kinds of illiteracy in our students are pointed out: functional illiteracy, cultural illiteracy, and moral illiteracy. Functional illiteracy is would come to most people's mind when thinking of "illiterate": being unable to perform basic tasks such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Cultural illiteracy speaks to a persons lack of understanding of concepts that allows them to interact with culture. Moral illiteracy is the absence of any moral direction. He finishes the chapter with a discussion of "Values-Clarification," and the impact it has had on our students.

Chapter 4 discusses relativism, positivism, and secularism and how these have all contributed to the intellectual downfall of our schools. Relativism being the absence of an objective morality; positivism being what we know as scientism; and secularism being naturalism or humanism. Nash also demonstrates how Nietzsche predicted the outcome of such beliefs.

In Chapter 5 Nash talks about the people involved in educating our students. He does not limit his discussion to teachers, but also talks about people who educate the teachers and the National Education Association. Finally, Nash critiques instrumentalism (the idea that "thinking" is an instrument only for solving problems, not finding truth), and its effect on our education system.

In Chapter 6 Nash, although still critiquing, begins to offer his solutions. He starts with four essential steps: family, student motivation/preparation, local control of schools, and increased parental choice.

Chapter 7 goes into the separation between our education system and the government. Nash points out that in colonial America there was no distinction between public and private education. He believes that the government needs to either remove funding for all public schools or allow funding for all private schools. This would increase the parental choice. He spends a lot of time discussing the advantages of increasing choices to parents.

In Chapter 8 Nash shifts focus from the public school system to private Christian schools. He quickly discusses the history of the Christian school movement and the purpose of Christian schools. He then examines opponents of Christian schools' reasons for opposing. Finally he offers an expanded purpose for Christian schools.

Chapter 9 Nash really starts going after radical leftists and their effects on higher education. Nash points out that Marxism is a major contributing factor to the current state of the academy. Specifically, Nash states that Marxists understand the purpose of the humanities is to remove all distinctions among cultures and people. Nash mentions that our past and distinctions help to identify who we are, and the erasure of our past or distinctions ensures control of the people. Nash also attacks deconstructionism and shows the damage it is responsible for.

In Chapter 10 Nash shifts back to Christian education, but this time his focus is the evangelical college. He praises Christian colleges for offering to provide a rounded education that includes objective morality and all the disciplines offered from a Christian perspective. However, Nash does has a few harsh words regarding Christian colleges and their succumbing to the political left.

In Chapter 11 Nash focuses on the Church and renewing its links to its past. He goes into detail about how the Church has allowed its educational institutions to fall away from orthodox Christianity. He then calls the Church to come back to reveal truth and the supernatural that they have been attempting to distance themselves from.

Chapter 12 is the final chapter. Nash brings everything together and concludes with a quote from Chuck Colson, "The crisis that threatens us, the force that could topple our monuments and destroy our very foundations, is within ourselves. The crisis is in the character of our culture, where the values that restrain inner vices and develop inner virtues are eroding. Unprincipled men and women, disdainful of their moral heritage and skeptical of Truth itself, are destroying our civilization by weakening the very pillars upon which it rests."2

This is one of those books that even though older is quite fascinating and seems to still resonate. It is one that I will recommend to all educators and parents.

1. Nash, Ronald H. The Closing of the American Heart (USA: Word Publishing, 1990), pg 37
2. Ibid, pp 201-202

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