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English Department
277 Fenton Hall
State University of
New York at Fredonia
Fredonia, NY 14063
Ph: (716) 673-3125
Fax: (716) 673-4661

William V. Spanos, The End of Education: Toward Posthumanism (University of Minnesota Press, 1993)

This book provides a polemical critique of the modern university, and efforts by those on the right and the left who embrace a traditional view of the humanities as a way to initiate "reform".

Spanos, professor of English and comparative literature at the State University of New York at Binghamton and a founding editor of one of the most influential journals in contemporary literary and cultural theory (boundary2), argues here that Western education is catastrophically flawed because of its saturation in a metaphorical (which masks an ultimately ideological) system that seeks as its goal "to annul anxiety and desire: to bring the student into a state of ... repose" (15) -- as opposed to educating students to become critical, thoughtful and engaged in a learning that fosters their radical potentiality as agents for change. His lifelong project, articulated in a number of books and journal articles, has been to expose that flaw, primarily through passionate critique of both general education and literary studies as they have developed in the US since World War II.

The End of Education presents a compelling, historical genealogy of Western humanism that ultimately traces contemporary educational debates' roots to a metaphysical thinking-i.e., a thinking that "looks down from above" or from a privileged place of imagined stasis onto "things as they are" or everyday human experience--that originated in the classical era. By provocatively suggesting a "complicity between [current] liberal and conservative reform initiatives" through their common ground in an ultimately imperial foundation, Spanos seeks to expose what he calls "a strategy of incorporation that, whatever its explicit intentions, operates to reduce the subversive threat of the emergent differential constituencies (whether bodies of marginalized texts or marginalized social groups) by accommodating them to the humanist core or center" (14).

Whether grounded in Plato's philosophical idealism or Cicero's or Quintilian's Roman humanism; in Saint Augustine's pyschobiographical or Saint Thomas's providential cosmic Christianity; ... Francis Bacon's or Rene Descartes's or Jeremy Bentham's scientific humanism; Kant's or Hegel's Romantic or 'natural supernatural' humanism; Matthew Arnold's or Irving Babbitt's or I.A. Richards's synoptic humanism; whether it is informed by the studia humanitatis of the Roman paideia, the trivium and quadrivium of the medieval schools, or the arts and sciences configuration of fields of the modern university, Western educational theory and practice ... has ... always assumed a prior unity of knowledge (and Being) inhering in the apparently dispersed, disseminating, and duplicitous multiplicity of difference of temporal being... (15).

Spanos advocates, instead, teaching "against the grain" of received interpretation; a "decentered pedagogy" that restores the liberatory potential of teaching and learning for both teachers and students.

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