Greetings to all of you.
Allan Bloom published "The Closing of the American Mind" -- "How higher
education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today's
students" in 1987.
In this extraordinary book he described his experiences as a professor of
social thought at the University of Chicago. He observed over many years
of teaching how the capacity of students to read the classical books of
all times (English translations where necessary) gradually diminished.
Think of names such as Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Cicero,
Shakespear, Bacon, Pascal, Swift, Smith, Locke, Tocqueville, Dickens,
Dostoyevski, Weber to recall "them old great books" (as Bloom calls them).
The less the students read such books, the more difficult it became for
them to read even one such a book. They could not comprehend anymore the
world view of another person from another place and time.
Consequently the "world view" (if we may still use this name) of these
students became extremely narrow. They could not tolerate different
opinions. They could not think critically any more. They could not
articulate their own thoughts. They wanted to become an expert on a
popular topic as soon as possible. They allowed other experts to erect
walls of ignorance around themselves. They became complacent with their
lack of creative thinking. They alienated themselves from the rest of the
world without knowing it. The cream of the nation was becoming rancid
through Higher Education itself as the agent.
Bloom wrote his book from the viewpoint as a teacher and not as some or
other expert of which he was capable of doing. He wrote explicitly on
sureness, wholeness and openness. He was also implicit aware to the other
four 7Es (seven essentialities of creativity), namely liveness,
fruitfulness, spareness and otherness. He must have been a great teacher.
Bloom is also a grand master of irony. That makes the book difficult to
understand by the many ignorant to irony as a mode of expression. For
example, in some forty pages he shoots holes into openness only to
disclose in one paragraph that there are two kinds of openness -- gruesome
impaired openness and authentic openness. Whoever skips that paragraph
will soon want to throw away the book or even burn it.
Bloom's use of the English language seems to be impeccable to me.
Furthermore, he translated self two great books into English -- Plato's
"Republic" from Greek and JJ Rousseau's "Emile" from French. With this he
manifested how he walked the talk.
I think that Bloom's book applies to many other nations too. Should you
read "The Closing of the XYZ Mind", please consider whether the name of
your own nation does not also fit the XYZ. Are your institutions of Higher
Education operating like sausage machines, producing students and papers
Nevertheless, there is for me a vast difference between reading great
books and writing a great book. When reading a book there is a flow of
information from the outside world to the inside world. The enquiring
reader, when coming to some information in the book which he/she does not
understand, will immediately try to fathom the importance of such
information rather than merely skipping it. The reader will then act
according to the importance of such information. The more the book
articulates a narrow minded author, the less the mind of the reader is
stimulated by it. Should the reader select such narrow minded literature
as the only information to be memorised on a particular topic, the
"Closing of the Mind" has begun.
When writing a book there is a flow of information from the inside world
to the outside world. The source of that information is the personal
knowledge of the author. The more the great books the author studied, the
more the author is aware of the audience who will read his/her own book,
even those living in different worlds hundreds of years after publication
of the book. The author will then painstakedly create the information such
that it will accommodate that audience as best as possible. Living
knowledge will become frozen into printed language to reach that audience
through space and time. But should the author write a book intended and
accomplished as a hot seller for a couple of years to "closed minds" after
which it becomes outdated junk literature, the "Final Closing of the Mind"
Bloom articulated "The Closing of the XYZ Mind" superbly. He could have
written a far more popular book, a best seller smashing sales records. But
I think that he had intuitively in mind this "Final Closing of the Mind".
It becomes the "soul" between the lines from the first page to the last
page in his book. The use of the English language from sentence to
sentence, conveying thought upon thought, also carries this soul between
them. Allow me to go deeper into this "soul".
English is not my mother tongue. I struggle each time when I write in
English to express my thoughts as clearly as possible to anyone interested
in authentic learning. My thoughts and English grammar often do not match.
Thus I do injustice to English to English. Please accept my apology.
I wish I had a teacher like Bloom besides me to guide me how I to improve
my use of English. I know he will suggest that I should read the great
books of the past, either originally in English or translated into
I have read many of them, even long before I read his own book. I found
that some use English words and sentence constructions which are seldom
used today. I had to consult dictionaries to understand the full meaning
of a word seldom used or a word unknown to me. It helped much to increase
my vocabulary. Many times I had to read a sentence with a peculiar
construction several times to understand what meaning the author tried to
convey with it. But this did not help me to become more sure how to
When I read English, I know that I do not have to be continuously alert
not to make grammatical or spelling errors, nor to find the exact words to
express a thought. This knowledge makes me at ease. Thus I can pay more
attention to what these authors try to tell. But I also know that every
person with authentic knowledge has to work hard on articulating the tacit
dimension of that knowledge. This makes me curious.
Often I have to ask myself "Is this what the author really wanted to say?"
The tacit dimension of knowing means that "we know more than we can tell"
as Polanyi articulated it. It then becomes a major task of not only
understanding every sentence on its own, but in the whole context which it
has been written. The context reflects tacit knowing much more than any
particular sentence. When the author do not only connect to his/her own
tacit knowing, but also to that of the reader, the soul moves in between
My big troubles begin when I have to express my own thoughts in English.
When I have to write, I have to keep several things close at mind.
Foremost are the readers, each having immense tacit knowing to which I
want to reach out to. Secondly come my own thoughts which I want to
articulate. Thirdly comes the full "character" of English which I want to
Character involves properties such as true, good, right and beauty. I do
not want these properties to get impaired in my writing because the reader
will then have to struggle even more to understand what I mean. In other
words, between the thoughts in my mind and between the thoughts which I
want the reader to form from my articulations as information is the
"character" of the English language. This "character" is much of a mystery
to me because English is not my mother tongue.
I have a friend who is a guru on some dozen indigenous languages. Even
though a guru, he often admits confidentially to me how he struggles to
fathom the "character" of those languages. I once asked him how one can
learn the "character" of a language other than one's own mother tongue. He
said to me that in his post graduate studies he also asked that same
question to his mentor. His mentor replied with the curious answer: "Since
you cannot be born again in that language, you will have to marry a woman
who speaks that language and live with her in all things till death parts
Well, this is not possible for my friend nor me because we are men married
to women who speak our mother tongue Afrikaans. We love our wives too much
to part from them. So, if the advice of my friend's mentor is best, we
will have to find a second best solution to our problem. How can we
penetrate into the "character" of another language? How can we prevent the
final closing of our minds to that language and its speakers? What
solution would you fellow learners suggest?
Alan Bloom believes that the mind of a nation closes when it does not read
the great books of other nations. I agree with him. But for me the final
closing of the mind goes even deeper. It begins by not being able to
express our own thoughts in many languages -- a one-to-many-mapping from
thought to languages. I think that there are hundreds of fellow learners
on our LO-dialogue who have mother tongues other than English. I would
love to hear from them their own opinions.
I now want to move to the "character" of my own mother tongue Afrikaans to
illustrate how difficult it is to write in English. Only 22 years before
the onset of apartheid Afrikaans became the second official language of
our country in addition to English. This boosted the development of
written Afrikaans to great heights. However, during apartheid English and
Afrikaans were often forced upon on the majority of peoples for whom
neither English nor Afrikaans were their mother tongue. In the case of
English they accepted it because it was an international language for
business, science, education, politics and other public walks of life. But
in the case of Afrikaans they began to hate the language because of what
apartheid (formulated in that language) did to them. For them Afrikaans
acquired an evil "character".
Now almost 10 years after the dismantling of apartheid the future of
Afrikaans is as precarious as the more than a dozen other indigenous
languages. Formally we have 11 official languages (like English,
Afrikaans, Sotho and Zulu) in recognition to the more than million
speakers of each official language. But de facto English is displacing
them in all public walks of life. Why? People believe that they will
advance far better by using English than their mother tongue. Yes, many do
advance and a few of them advance considerably. But the majority advance
little, if not actually sliding backwards. Why? They are oblivious to the
"character" of the English which they want to make use of.
People here in South Africa are deluged by the media with a "common
English" of which the vocabulary is less than 1000 words. The sentences
have seldom more than a dozen words. All the sentences together on a topic
are seldom more than a page. Day in and day out they are reminded "keep it
simple" otherwise "the people" will not understand them. Conversations
follow the same patterns. People have become the victims of simplicity. In
a world becoming rapidly more complex, this simplicity strangles their
spirituality and suppress their creativity.
Those who make it to Higher Education are suddenly exposed to a deluge of
dedicated terminology within the confinements of a discipline. Outside
that discipline this terminology has little, if any meaning. Meanwhile
this terminology is presented with the same "common English" having a
vocabulary less than 1000 words. A few such disciplines, taken together
without any wholeness among them, leads to a degree. Specialising
afterwards in one of them leads higher degrees and eventually to
expertise. Is it not the sausage machine operating?
How is (was?) it with Afrikaans?
The Afrikaans language is rich in idiomatic expressions based on
metaphors. It is the same with the Bantu and Xhoi languages. But in
English this metaphoric dimension had been replaced gradually by dedicated
Romanic words imported from Latin and Greek. Under the influence of
English a fast growing number of Afrikaans speaking people use similar to
English dedicated Romanic words ("one-to-one-mapping") to articulate their
thoughts rather than Afrikaans idioms and metaphors. The Afrikaans
language is also rich in words having many meanings
("one-to-many-mapping"). But again too many Afrikaans speaking people
under the influence of "common English" reduce these words to a
The effect of this on their creativity is disastrous. I have explained
several times (and am willing to explain it many times again) that
creativity is fundamentally a "one-to-many-mapping" rather than a
"one-to-one-mapping". Should we assume that knowledge in which language(s)
operate is of a higher level than creativity, such a reduction of the
language diminishes its guiding capacity on creativity seriously.
Afrikaans also has a profound manner to change the meaning of a root word
by adding prefixes and/or suffixes to it. This is another kind of
"one-to-many-mapping" which is dying out in Afrikaans under the influence
of "common English". English also has prefixes and suffixes to change the
meaning of a root word. But people who use a "common English" with a
restricted vocabulary under the command of "keep it simple" are not even
able to point out the root, prefixes or suffixes in a word having them.
Thus they do not know how the meaning of the root word gets changed by
I want to illustrate to you fellow learners the creative character of
Consider as example the Afrikaans word "moed". It has evolved from the
Saxon ("Nederduits") word "mo(e)d" which meant "heart of the
mind/soul/spirit". The English word "mood" has also evolved from the Saxon
"mo(e)d", but its meaning has changed. The following two alterations to
"mood" exist: moodiness, moody.
Compare this with the many alterations which are possible in Afrikaans. I
will first give the Afrikaans word. Sometimes in the Afrikaans I will
indicate a necessary vowel or consonant for pronunciation purposes in ( )
Secondly I will supply a morphemic translation in [ ] brackets. Since the
Afrikaans "moed" and the English 'mood' comes from the same Saxon root,
they are morphemic equivalents, even though the English "mood" has now a
different meaning. I will do the same with prefixes and suffixes. For
example, the Afrikaans suffix "-ig" is the morphemic equivalent of the
English suffix "-y". (Although modern English has lost the prefix "ge-" to
make the perfect form of a verb, I will still use it in the morphemic
translation.) In the same manner the morphemic equivalent of conjuncted
words in Afrikaans like "waagmoed" will be given. For "waag" the morphemic
equivalent in English is '(to)wage'. In some cases I could not find a
morphemic equivalent in English so that I used the literal translation
indicating it by ( ) brackets.
I think that the list of morphemic translations will leave you fellow
learners dumbfounded. But this is exactly the point which I want to make
with respect to Afrikaans. The more Afrikaans is reduced into a
"one-to-one-mapping" usage, the more the list become alien to the speakers
of such a "common Afrikaans". For example, they will now use "braaf"
rather than "moedig" for brave. Please, fasten now your seat belts to
experience some of the "character" of Afrikaans.
Here is the first list using prefixes and/or suffixes:.
"moed"=[mood]=courage, heart, nerve, spirit
"moedig"=[mood-y]=brave, courageous, plucky, valiant
"moedigheid"=[mood-y-hood]=bravery, courageousness, pluck, valour
"bemoedig"=[be-mood-y]=encourage, cheer up
"demoed"=[de-mood]=humility, meekness, submissiveness
"gemoede"=[(ge)-mood-s]=conscientiously, all seriousness
"gemoed(e)lik"=[(ge)-mood-ly]=genial, good nature
"vermoed"=[fore-mood]=suspect, presume, suppose, surmise
"vermoede"=[fore-mood-s]=suspicion, presumption, supposition
"vermoed(e)lik"=[fore-mood-ly]=probable, presumptive, presumable
When we allow also for dual constructions which is possible in
Afrikaans by using for both duals ANY noun, verb, adjective or
adverb, the list becomes staggering. Here are some of the more
common constructions. Do not loosen those seat belts!
"armoede"=[(poor)-mood-s]=indigence, penury, poverty, want,
poverty-stricken, penurious, shabby, starved, unthrifty
"blymoedig"=[(glad)-mood-y]=cheerful, glad, joyful, jovial
"gemoed(s)aard"=[(ge)-mood-earth]=disposition, nature, temper
"gemoedstemming"=[(ge)-mood-(tuning)]=frame of mind,
delusions of grandeur
"leeu(e)moed"=[lion-mood]=lion's courage, lion-hearted (Richard)
"manmoedig"=[man-mood-y]=bold, brave, courageous, manful,
"mannemoed"=[men-mood]=stout-heartedness, manly courage
"moed(e)loos"=[mood-less]=crestfallen, dejected, despondent,
discouraged, disheartened, feignthearted, out of heart
"moed(s)wil"=[mood-will]=petulance, wantonness, willfulness
"moedverloor(se)vlakte =[mood-fore-lose-flats]=slough of
"moed(s)willig"=[mood-willy]=wanton, wilful, petulant, refractory,
obstreperous, mischievous, intentional, purposely
"oormoed"=[over-mood]=rushiness, recklessness, overboldness,
arrogance, presumption, presumptuousness
"ootmoed"=[(un)-mood]=humility, meekness, humbleness
"swaarmoedig=[(heavy)-mood]=melancholy, depressed, heavy
"vrymoedig"=[free-mood-y]=frank, open, outspoken, bold,
liberty, unabashed, unbashful, candid, uninhibited,
"waagmoed"=[wage-mood]=pluck, daring, audacity
I also wanted to give you a list of the dozens of idioms and metaphoric
uses of "moed", but this will indeed make this contribution too
Please bear in mind that hundreds of other root words in Afrikaans also
have such impressive lists of creative alterations to them. By working
through all of them astonishing patterns become clear which can be linked
directly to creativity. Hence through using the appropriate altered word
for the concept to be articulated, the person may thus become tacitly
reminded of the creativity pattern involved.
The tragedy is that most of these creatively altered words like those
above for "moed" are now unknown to many Afrikaans speaking students
entering university. They have little experiences in the
"one-to-many-mapping" of the meaning of a root word. This condemns many of
them to the "one-to-one-mapping" of rote learning. Authentic learning is a
mystery for them. They remain mentally impoverished after having spent a
number of years in Higher Education.
Few Afrikaans speaking people will know that "moed" originally meant
"heart of the mind/soul/spirit". But those who know most of the words
above, will immediately recognise how this original meaning unfolds by all
these alterations. What is even more astounding is that by all these very
"one-to-many-mappings" the original meaning of "moed" has been preserved
for more than a millennium! I think herein lies an important lesson for
What are the "things" in a LO of which we want the meaning of each to be
preserved as well as to become unfolded so that all can recognise it? I
think that most important such a thing is the vision of the LO. When it is
preserved and recognised by all its members it becomes a Shared Vision.
But far too often in an OO (Ordinary Organisation) the vision is the
vision of the boss which is untouchable. Creative alterations on it is
forbidden. Why? Because the boss failed to show them a creative,
systematical way to do it.
With care and best wishes,
At de Lange <email@example.com> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa
Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <Richard@Karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>
"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.