A conversation in a prison cell sparks an ambitious undertaking to attack the roots of long-term poverty.
Publishers WeeklyIn 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'sEarl 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 QuarterlyTo 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 ReviewsA 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.
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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- Product dimensions:
- 6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)
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