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High on Barzun's list of intellectual virtues is keeping one's head. He has never fallen for faddish thinking, nor been taken in by 'one size fits all' ideas. The wideness of his mental expanse prevented him from falling into that trap.

This is a remarkably good thing, because fads, of whatever sort, eventually go out of fashion. What was once cutting edge, now seems rather quaint -- like reading an issue of Wired magazine from the early 1990s.

In Teacher in America, published in 1945 Barzun writes with devastating accuracy about the problems of education. The book is not dated and many of its criticisms still apply. The book reads almost as if it were written last year. This is a tribute to Jacques Barzun's insight. Reading his other books or articles, one can find the same accuracy of insight, coupled with suggestive prescriptions for improvement.

Yet, in this there is also a problem. For, in over fifty years, the educational situation has not changed drastically. Much of the same nonsense that Barzun pilloried can be found in almost every university or school.

Can it be that there is something missing in Barzun's approach, some weakness that prevents the implementation of ideas?

Yes, there is a weakness, but it is not just at Barzun's door that we must look for the problem.

For one thing, Barzun does not have a messianic streak that would goad him into acquiring converts to promote his ideas and transform the world.

Nevertheless, something else is afoot and it has to do with the nature of North American culture in the second half of the century.

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Copyright © 30 November 2007 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada


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