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Powers of the Mind

The Reinvention of Liberal Learning in America

Powers of the Mind

The Reinvention of Liberal Learning in America

It is one thing to lament the financial pressures put on universities, quite another to face up to the poverty of resources for thinking about what universities should do when they purport to offer a liberal education. In Powers of the Mind, former University of Chicago dean Donald N. Levine enriches those resources by proposing fresh ways to think about liberal learning with ideas more suited to our times. 

He does so by defining basic values of modernity and then considering curricular principles pertinent to them. The principles he favors are powers of the mind—disciplines understood as fields of study defined not by subject matter but by their embodiment of distinct intellectual capacities. To illustrate, Levine draws on his own lifetime of teaching and educational leadership, while providing a marvelous summary of exemplary educational thinkers at the University of Chicago who continue to inspire.  Out of this vital tradition, Powers of the Mind constructs a paradigm for liberal arts today, inclusive of all perspectives and applicable to all settings in the modern world.

256 pages | 7 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Education: Higher Education, Philosophy of Education

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work, Theory and Sociology of Knowledge


"Writing as scholar, teacher, and dean, Levine provides rich evidence that current debates in the world of liberal education are part of a continuing negotiation that has deep but frequently forgotten roots. This study also reminds us that the norm of a four-year undergraduate experience, complete with majors and general education requirements, was not preordained and that the aims are more enduring than the forms."

Carol Schneider, president, Association of American Colleges and Universities

Powers of the Mind will become an instant landmark in the history and analysis of education in the liberal arts. Donald Levine understands that liberal education is more than the content of a curriculum; liberal education is a set of pedagogies, an approach to assessment and evaluation, and a conception of intellectual and moral development that transcends particular authors and works. He does not stop at description and analysis; he courageously offers a compelling proposal for the reinvention of the pedagogies of the liberal arts for the future. I love this book and look forward to savoring it repeatedly.”

Lee S. Shulman, president, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

“A truly significant book—both timely and timeless. Liberal education is challenged by the commercialism and indeed commodification of the university, exacerbated by growing aimlessness. In Powers of the Mind, Donald Levine recenters the necessary conversation about the reconstruction of liberal education by reflecting on its best traditions in the context of its present situation and mission. It’s hard to say which is more thrilling: the sweep and originality of Levine’s narrative about the history of liberal education at the University of Chicago or his own pedagogical and curricular prescriptions, based on a lifetime of engaged teaching, learning, and administrative leadership.”--Mark D. Jacobs, George Mason University

Mark D. Jacobs

"What does it mean to be liberally educated in 21st-century America, and what is the role of liberal education in a democracy? . . . . Levine . . . focuses on defining a curricular structure for liberal education (rooted primarily in the evolution of undergraduate programs at Chicago, which he calls exemplary). . . . [It] will appeal to those with an interest in higher education. . . . Levine provides a historical analysis of the development of undergraduate education at Chicago and a proposal for a contemporary model of liberal learning. . . . [This book] will help create balance between conservative and liberal volleys in the ’culture wars’ in higher education and will appeal to many readers."

Scott Walker | Library Journal

Table of Contents

Prologue: Missing Resources in Higher Education

Part I. Crises of Liberal Learning in the Modern World

1. The Place of Liberal Learning
            Sites of Secondary Enculturation
            The Modernity Revolutions
            Liberal Education Encounters Modernity
2 The Movement for General Education
            Fallout from the Modernity Revolutions
            Quest for a New Common Learning

Part II. Enter Chicago

3. The Making of a Curricular Tradition
            Enter Chicago
            Forming and Nurturing a Tradition
            Themes of the Chicago Tradition
            The Chicago Tradition of Liberal Learning
4. Dewey and Hutchins at Chicago
            Dewey as Educator
            Hutchins as an Unwitting (?) Deweyan
            The Hutchins-Dewey Debate
5. Richard McKeon: Architecton of Human Powers
            Entering the Fray
            Changing the Humanities Course
            Reconfiguring the Liberal Curriculum
            The Return in the 1960s
            McKeon as Teacher
6. Joseph Schwab’s Assault on Facile Teaching
            Genesis of an Educator
            Transforming the Natural Science Curriculum
            Transforming Classroom Pedagogy
            Transforming Pedagogy through Examinations
            Transforming Educational Systems
            Pluralistic Thoughtways and Communal Practice
            Schwab and the Chicago Tradition
7. What Is Educational about the Study of Civilizations?
            "Civilization" in Educational Discourse
            Civilizational Studies at Chicago
            So, What Is Educational about the Study of Civilizations?

Part III. Reinventing Liberal Education in Our Time

8. New Goals for the Liberal Curriculum   
            Contested Principles for the Liberal Curriculum
            Choosing a Path
9. Goals for the Liberal Curriculum I: Powers of Prehension 
            Audiovisual Powers
            Kinesthetic Powers
            Understanding Verbal Texts
            Understanding Worlds
10. Goals for the Liberal Curriculum II: Powers of Expression
            Forming a Self
            Inventing Statements, Problems, and Actions
            Integrating Knowledge
11. New Ways of Framing Pedagogy       
            Modalities of Teaching and Learning
            From "Teaching" to Teaching Powers
            A Repertoire of Teaching Forms
            Approaches to Testing
12. My Experiments in Teaching Powers
            Searching for Disciplines
            Basic Practice
            Disciplines as Ways of Getting into Conversations
            Disciplines as Ways of Connecting Conversations

Epilogue: The Fate of Liberal Learning
Appendix: Three Syllabi for Teaching Powers at Chicago

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