Barzun’s ‘The House of Intellect’

I first read Barzun’s book ‘The House of Intellect’ in college, on the recommendation of a Politics professor of mine who was advising me on my academic future.  The House of Intellect has incredible foresight – written in 1959 but one would think it was written last year.

I still reference the book on some occasion when I teach.  One of my primary pet peeves with my students is their tendency to put ‘I feel’ in front of everything they say.  My response: ‘Don’t be such a wuss.  Assert what you think is the case, if you are wrong don’t worry, someone will tell you!’  I also still get annoyed at the nearly exclusive emphasis on teaching technique (‘engaging the students’) and a corresponding decline in attention paid to the actual content of courses.  I don’t know if I am a good teacher, but I know I teach great books.  If everyone did that, I think we’d be in better shape.

Here is a recent review of the old book.  The book is worth reading for those interested in education in America (and the anti-intellectualism it has helped foster).

Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

4 thoughts on “Barzun’s ‘The House of Intellect’”

  1. I think you know I share a lot of Barzun’s concerns. I haven’t read the book, but I will. Still, just to argue the other side, I wonder if there is something to the idea of school serving a “socialization” function. It is good for kids to learn about sharing, and reading each others’ feelings, and having good self-esteem, and so on. I hasten to add: not to the point of not learning anything!


  2. Yes. This socialization was probably done at home a few generations ago. While I wish more parents took responsibility for it now, it is probably necessary in a post-industrial workforce to have schools play a part in the socialization of students.


  3. My response: ‘Don’t be such a wuss. Assert what you think is the case, if you are wrong don’t worry, someone will tell you!’

    My response: ‘but, the meek will inherit the earth!’

    Kidding aside, I agree with that basic point. Whenever you state something, “I think” or “I feel” is implied. And education these days has a lot of wuss to it. I heard somewhere that while the literacy rate in the US has gone up over time, the complex literacy rate (whatever that is) in the US has gone down. Incidentally, when I was an undergrad I switched from english to philosophy mostly because of wishy-washy/touchy-feely profs. I didn’t have that problem with the CS department. Vicki Allen in particular wields the staff (brilliant lady).

    I had a friend who got a paper back from Charlie once that said “D, Nice Try”. True story. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t just being lazy either, I think he really did try on that paper.

    I also appreciate it when a prof can look at a student’s attempt to actually learn vs. a student’s attempt to jump through the correct hoops to get the relevant piece of paper.


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