The Humanities as Soul-Making – Scott McLemee reviews Andrew Delbanco
At the same time, College is written in defense of a specific mode of higher learning that Delbanco values and wants to see prevail: the humanities regarded as a practice of soul-making, a secular encounter with the possibility of transcending the particular view of the world you happen to have acquired through the accident of being born in a particular kind of body in a given society at a certain time. He quotes a remark from Emerson’s journals about the teacher’s effort to “get the soul out of bed, out of her deep habitual sleep.”
This isn’t just a plea for the humanities to keep its place at the table, though College is certainly that. Nor is Delbanco exactly making an argument for the liberal arts as the medium through which new, socially critical ideas can take hold and be propagated, a la Dewey—despite his clear belief that an education that has not produced an accountable, critical mind has failed. Rather, he’s concerned about the deeply anti-democratic implications of what is happening—the undoing of Emerson’s vision of scholarship and serious discussion coming down from the ivory tower and joining the fray, rather than polishing the manners of a happy few.