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ISSN 1931-5716

Habits of Mind by Antonio T. De Nicolas

Habits of Mind

An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education
by Antonio T. De Nicolas
Lightning Source, 2000
Review by Keith Burkum, Ph.D. on Jan 25th 2002
Volume: 6, Number: 4

Antonion T. De Nicolas has offered a revolution in the form of a book. The text is Habits of Mind: The Practice of Philosophy as education and the author provides both a radical re-imaging of the nature and goal of education and many of the materials with which to implement the project.

De Nicolas begins on the familiar terrain of the critique of the state of modern American education. Many conservative and liberal pundits alike have offered detailed examinations of the failings of our university system. Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind is only one of the more widely regarded of these critiques. De Nicolas concurs in the view that our universities are in trouble but offers a very different diagnosis and, consequently, a unique treatment.

Whereas writers such as Bloom lament the failure of our educational system to teach core moral values, inherited from ancient Greece and early Christian culture, to which Western culture once adhered, De Nicolas argues that our system has never truly availed itself of the richness of its roots. De Nicolas argues that our culture has reduced our mental lives to the mere exercise of theorizing and hence, our inner lives are impoverished. Strikingly, he advances the view that even Plato advocated the cultivation of habits of mind that involved the use of the imagination and the development of a healthy sense of embodiment. This is an unusual perspective on Plato, to say the very least. Historians of Philosophy typically see him as promoting the focus on theory. The interesting thing here is that De Nicolas offers a creative and stimulating look at the sources of Western culture as a way to broaden our conception of education.

De Nicolas is also a very upbeat thinker in regard to education. He does not offer the gloom and doom of a Bloom. He believes that a healthier array of inner mental habits can be cultivated in the university students through a classroom experience centered on the dramatic presentation of the material of the classical texts of our civilization. Here, as well, De Nicolas' book is unusual. The text is primarily a collection of classic texts with discussions of how students might re-enact the meaning of the texts in the classroom. These materials grew out of De Nicolas' teaching experience at S.U.N.Y. Stony Brook. Habits of Mind is truly a teacher's book. It is not just an armchair critique of the state of modern education.

De Nicolas' Habits of Mind is a very creative consideration of the way we might utilize classical materials in the university classroom in a way that will engage the full range of the student's capacities. It would be helpful, however, to know how all the various inner mental acts are to be related one to another. For example, how are acts of imagination to be connected to theorizing? Nonetheless, this book should stimulate much new thought on a variety of crucial issues.

© 2002 Keith Burkum

Keith Burkum has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University, 1998. He has taught at several colleges in New York.

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