There are two Americas at this point in history, with two very different worldviews. One is the modern view of separated individuals defined by their right to pursue and protect material well-being in a world of free market capitalism and unlimited natural resources. The second worldview is pluralistic and relational, committed to sustainable practices that are supportive of democracy and promote the common good.
These essays focus on the conflict between the two Americas as it is manifest in contemporary higher education. Higher education still stands as the gateway to adult life in a society that continues to assume an intimate connection between national well-being and educational opportunity. As such, it presents a way of understanding the underlying tension of American culture, and in some ways of global culture. Higher education itself can be an educative microcosm.
Widespread availability of liberal education is an essential component of any society that seeks to sustain democratic institutions. Democracy is a form of governance that requires an active and informed citizenry who share material resources sufficiently to enable all members of society to participate. A crisis in liberal education is therefore a threat to democracy. The survival of America — perhaps the world — turns on whether we can become aware of the limitations of the worldview we have inherited and choose a better one, one more conducive to life.
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“Stephen Rowe has been for decades a most astute observer of American culture. With Two Americas he makes the case that the primary problems (and opportunities) of the contemporary university are due to a conflict of cultures. Very broadly he sees an individualistic, materialistic culture that has grown out of Cartesian philosophy of nature, and a process-relational culture that is now gaining strength. The former expresses itself in quantitative measures, often in monetary terms. This can only be managed by a bureaucracy. It includes the postmodernism that is primarily a deconstructive self-critique, which serves to weaken the hold of Cartesian thought and open doors for process relational growth. The latter has been a subordinate element in the Western tradition all along and is reinforced in recent times by the presence of other cultures. Despite the fact that the relational worldview’s goal of aiding students to become civilized adults cannot be quantified or achieved by mass production, Rowe provides a profound way of understanding and moving in the turmoil of the tectonic cultural shift which marks our time.”
-John B. Cobb, Jr.