The Whole Horse Project Posts

By Leigh M. Johnson

Response to “Into the Caldron

If there is an award for packing the most multivalent and oft-exploited terms into a single essay title, Jeff Gross should win it for what follows “Into the Caldron”: neoliberalism, ideology, education, and life itself. Those four words and things are the conversational equivalent of IEDs in the Academy these days. Buried along the discursive roadside, lying in wait for some poor soul with insufficiently protective theoretical armor to trip their wires and unleash their autoschediastic havoc, these are the sorts of broad conceptual terms that earn students demerits in their essays—What exactly do you mean by this? Define your terms. Be Specific.—though I suspect many of us worry that we’re also hand-waving in the general direction of mysterious phenomenon most of the time we employ them.

If there is another award for clearly and succinctly explicating workable definitions of “neoliberalism,” “ideology,” and “education” in the service of an eminently persuasive argument about what really matters in and for “life itself,” Gross should win that prize as well.



Neoliberalism, Ideology, Education, and Life Itself

By Jeff Gross

August Featured Essay

When I started college during the fall of 1998, our entire incoming class was given Canisius College t-shirts with the following oft-cited John Dewey “quotation” on the backs: “Education is not preparation for life but life itself.” The passage is bastardized from two different Dewey pieces. In “Self-Realization as the Moral Ideal,” Dewey suggests, “if I were asked to name the most needed of all reforms in the spirit of education, I should say: ‘Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.’” His quotation would take up a little more space on the back of a t-shirt or on a bumper sticker, though the oft-cited misquote seems to grasp the core of Dewey’s sentiment. Later, Dewey returns to the idea in “Educational Lectures before Brigham Young Academy, 2. Social Aspects of Education,” where he describes one of the purposes of education as the “social idea”: “The definition which it offers is that education is the preparation for the social position of life, the preparation of the individual to play his proper part in the community or state of which he is a member.” Dewey’s sentiments echoed Thomas Jefferson’s ideals for higher education in the United States as a space where a citizenry capable of self-government would emerge.

That same semester, as our t-shirts proclaimed a celebration of the intellectual experience of education and the meaningfulness of education for life, signs of a different meaning of college were all around. Bookstore bags, from the eFollett campus store, were preloaded with brochures and offers for credit cards and magazine subscriptions. The financial aid office recommended Sallie Mae loans. Education as an idea and education as an enterprise shared common ground, but a battle was afoot on campuses all over for which version of education would win. The subsequent decades have shown the battle lines emerge, especially as neoliberalism and conservatism have aligned to attack liberal arts programs as well as programs specifically aimed at the studies of racism, sexism, ecology, and poverty. Donors have influenced hiring; governors and legislators have pressured programs and orchestrated financial attacks, which—done in the name of austerity—have forced universities to be remade in a revenue-driven way.

Today, we’re left in a precarious position where university faculty and students can no longer question everything because academic departments are cut in the name of austerity and academic freedom is undermined. In this paradigm, if we apply the ethos that education is supposed to be life itself, then we end up with a system in which not all lives matter, especially those already decentered from power.

Jeff Gross

By Danny Mayer

A response to “New York Exceptionalism

Note: I must admit, as a community college professor working in a small southern city, I took great delight in reading about high-falutin’ tenurable NYU professors living in what amounts to subsidized apartments. Some payouts of power are not worth the payments extracted.

In my first six months living in the small southern city I now call home, I nearly got into a bar fight with a fifty-year-old carpenter for assuming that the former Empire Stater had lived in “the Big Apple.” I was only able to extricate myself from the situation by revealing my childhood New Jersey roots and proclaiming allegiance with my would-be assailant’s beef that “not everyone is from fucking New York City.”

I was reminded of this encounter as I read recent Big Apple resident Andrew Battista’s take on New York City exceptionalism–that is, the idea “that one’s existence [t]here is evidence of intellectual aptitude, creative genius, or hard work.”

For Andrew (as for me), that notion is a false one, both historically and in our present time.

Editorial Responses

By Andrew Battista

June Featured Essay

A commercial for New York University’s Langone Medical Center, of all things, got me thinking about what it means to live in New York City. The spot begins with a shot of Grand Central Station’s atrium. We hear the sound of someone playing a clarinet as a cluster of people walk by. Some of them pause briefly to appreciate the music, while others scurry on to their next job, meeting, or social engagement. After a couple of seconds, we see the clarinetist for the first time and realize that he’s no run-of-the-mill street performer. Dressed in leather shoes and a blazer, the man paces as he plays a flawless jazz solo. He smiles and makes eye contact with people walking by.

While this is happening, a narrator frames the scene as a commentary on life in New York: “What brings us here, to this place with the coldest winters and the hottest summers?” the voice asks. “We don’t come here to retire. We come here to live, to be challenged, to be inspired.” Next, we see the most inspired character in this commercial, a woman in the crowd. She bends down and takes out her own instrument, a violin she happens to be carrying, and leads the clarinetist into an extemporaneous, yet improbably polished, duet. The narrator reminds us that New York is “a city that demands fresh thinking and duly rewards it.”

Andrew Battista

By Steven Mangine

A response to “The Beauty of Education

I wake up hungry. I shuffle to the kitchen, perform egg inventory, select the pan, so on and so on. Ten minutes later, edible eggs appear. But who so on and so on-ed? My hands, but somehow I had not been operating them. In a hand, a whisk whisked, eggs liquefied, sizzled, and landed on a plate. But where was I as feet shuffled, olive oil smelled sweet, and outside the kitchen window, snow fell? Somewhere I had left myself behind.


By Andrew Battista

Response to “The Beauty of Education

I’m so happy that Beth’s essay, “The Beauty of Education,” is the inaugural post on The Whole Horse Project, and I’m fortunate that I’ve had the chance to think about it, off and on, for the past month. She made me work hard to connect several things—beauty, education, expertism, satiety, and the physical body—I don’t always associate. I hope the subsequent essays on this site operate similarly.

Beth’s essay stirs me to think about my own life in education. How much education is enough, and is the idea of being a “lifelong learner” bad dogma? What does it mean to become an expert in something? And, what does it mean to experience the world? This last question has always flummoxed me.

Editorial Responses

By Beth Connors-Manke

February Featured Essay

Recently, advertising copy came across my desk that gave me pause. It wasn’t a “hmmm…” pause, the kind that signals interest in a fresh or complex issue. Rather, it was a “what?!?” pause. A “whose Kool-Aid have we been drinking?” pause. The copy read something like this: “Announcing our new undergraduate major in XYZ! Upon graduation, our majors will be experts in XYZ.”

My alarm was born of an issue of fact and an issue of philosophy. First, the issue of fact: college graduates are not experts in anything. Those who have had a liberal arts education are, one hopes, well-rounded, which is pretty much the opposite of being an expert. Those who have majored in pre-professional tracks are simply at the beginning stage of understanding in their fields. A few years of education in an academic discipline or professional field is, quite simply, just an education in that discipline or field. Teachers know this; employers know this. Only the “consumer” believes the expert ploy—which leads to the second, philosophical issue: what is education for? by what means does it provide the most value? to whom? for whom? why?


Beth Connors-Manke