The Art of Freedom: Teaching the Humanities to the Poor

The Art of Freedom: Teaching the Humanities to the Poor

by Earl Shorris
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

A conversation in a prison cell sparks an ambitious undertaking to attack the roots of long-term poverty.
Seeking answers to the toughest questions about poverty in the United States, Earl Shorris had looked everywhere. At last, one resounding answer came from a conversation with a woman in a maximum-security prison: the difference between rich and poor is

Overview

A conversation in a prison cell sparks an ambitious undertaking to attack the roots of long-term poverty.
Seeking answers to the toughest questions about poverty in the United States, Earl Shorris had looked everywhere. At last, one resounding answer came from a conversation with a woman in a maximum-security prison: the difference between rich and poor is the humanities. Shorris took that idea and started a course at the Clemente Family Guidance Center in New York. With a faculty of friends, he began teaching the great works of literature and philosophy—from Plato to Kant, from Cervantes to Garcia Marquez—at the college level to dropouts, immigrants, and ex-prisoners. From that first class came two dentists, a nurse, two PhDs, a fashion designer, a drug counselor, and other successes.
Over the course of seventeen years the course expanded to many U.S. cities and foreign countries. Now Earl Shorris has written the stories of those who teach and those who study the humanities—a tribute to the courage of people rising from unspeakable poverty to engage in dialogue with professors from great universities around the world.This year, in a high school on the South Side of Chicago, a Clemente Course has begun that may change the character of public education in America and perhaps the world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1995, Shorris (The Politics of Heaven), while researching a book on poverty, visited New York’s Bedford Hills prison, where a female prisoner made an offhand comment: the difference between rich and poor is the humanities. This prison visit led to the much-lauded Clemente Course, a program to teach the humanities to disadvantaged students from all backgrounds, and earned Shorris the National Humanities Medal, presented to him by President Bill Clinton in 2000. The course focuses on teaching philosophy, art history, and literature through authors such as Plato, Dante, and Cervantes—complicated readings for students who have often failed out of high school. This book charts the progress of the Clemente Course from its first class of 25 in New York through its expansion to Illinois, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and eventually abroad to Canada, Sudan, and other countries. Shorris’s story is told in the first person as he observes and interacts with students who participate in the 10-month program. Though Shorris takes readers through each location’s specific problems, the book is more fundamentally about how his students have shaped him through their perspectives, experiences, and expectations. (Feb.)
Victor Navasky
“Earl Shorris was one of a kind and his story should inspire us all.”
John R. MacArthur
“Earl Shorris was the most authentic and radical of educators: he thought the poor were human, entitled to know as much as anyone else. Told with verve and humor, this memoir might inspire a revolution.”
Lewis Lapham
“To read The Art of Freedom is to learn what should be the first and fundamental purpose of an American education. More instructive than any academic analysis or government policy paper, Earl Shorris’s book furnishes both the how and the why to empower the nation’s public schools.”
Glenn C. Altschuler - San Francisco Chronicle
“Shorris demonstrated, in 17 short years, that well-designed and well-taught courses can ‘pierce the structure of the surround of force’ that holds poor people down. Many changes must be made before the culture of the streets becomes a culture of learning. But Earl Shorris has earned the right to rest in peace.”
Harper's
Earl Shorris was the most authentic and radical of educators: he thought the poor were human, entitled to know as much as anyone else. Told with verve and humor, this memoir might inspire a revolution.— John R. MacArthur
Lapham's Quarterly
To read The Art of Freedom is to learn what should be the first and fundamental purpose of an American education. More instructive than any academic analysis or government policy paper, Earl Shorris’s book furnishes both the how and the why to empower the nation’s public schools.— Lewis Lapham
Kirkus Reviews
A prolific author and founder of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a free program designed to teach reflective thinking to the disadvantaged, tells stories about the students and teachers touched by the experience. Inspired almost 20 years ago by a prison inmate's remark that the poor needed "a moral alternative to the street," Shorris (The Politics of Heaven: America in Fearful Times, 2007, etc.) established the Clemente Course, using the ideas of the great books to pierce what he clunkily terms "the surround of force" that bears down on the impoverished, keeping them from fully exercising their citizenship. Here, he offers a field report on the progress and spread of Clemente and its variants in Alaska, Wisconsin, Washington, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Australia, Korea, Canada and Sudan. All courses employ first-class teachers, all use the Socratic method, and while the curriculum may vary, the motivating idea abides: that philosophy, history, art history, literature and logic belong to everyone and that they inspire the critical thinking necessary for the poor to move from lives of reaction to reflection to civic freedom. Although he generously praises fellow teachers and especially the students who have overcome so much, Shorris asserts his progressive bona fides throughout and barely suppresses his ego beneath a bumbling-professor pose. Nor, other than a couple of thin studies, does he offer any more than anecdotal evidence about Clemente's efficacy. There's no arguing with the individual success stories, with the dedication of the instructors, or with the earnestness of the enterprise, but whether a heavy dose of Plato and Kant, Keats and Coleridge, Botticelli and Renoir is the answer to poverty remains problematic. Shorris died last June but not before receiving a National Humanities Medal for his work and surely not without the thanks of thousands of low-income people now equipped to continue their educations. To ask and answer the question "What would Socrates do?" may not cure the pathologies of poverty, but Shorris insists it's a necessary exercise for the poor to begin to free themselves.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393081275
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
02/18/2013
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,367,688
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Earl Shorris (1936–2012) is the author of many works of both fiction and non-fiction including Latinos, Under the Fifth Sun, In the Language of Kings, and Riches for the Poor. He was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Clinton for his founding of the Clemente Course in the Humanities®, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >