Response to “The American Scholar”

Post- Reading Response In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1837 address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard, called “The American Scholar”, he makes clear his thoughts and ideas on the European cultural and cerebral influence on America. Emerson wanted to get across that American scholars needed to create their own independent American literature and academic world, separate from European history. Emerson uses tone and style to further convey his ideas to the public.

The tone that seems constant throughout Emerson’s entire address is a confrontational one. Emerson is confronting the nation on its continuous grip on England and European ways. He is leaving little room for difference of opinion, instead challenging American citizens to do what they have feared most for so many years and let go of their English ties. I believe that the style used in Emerson’s speech is primarily persuasive. The entire address Emerson is attempting to persuade his audience to agree with his outlook.

I think that his ultimate aspiration was not only to clearly state his ideas but also to help the public come to their own reasoning and opinions on the matter. Emerson’s confrontational and persuasive techniques used in his speech helped convince the nation that a crucial and valuable change had to be made. Fast-forwarding 173 years, America has successfully detached itself from Europe and we have distinguished ourselves as prominent philosophical and intellectual scholars.

But is my generation threatening to reverse the clock and set us back 173 years? Our education in America has sky rocketed since 1837 but recently there has been a tremendous decline in academic and post-academic success. In an article called “Putting Our Brains on Hold,” Bob Herbert makes it clear that it is my generation to blame for this decline. According to him “America’s young people are moving in exactly the wrong direction,” and that our society is “more interested in hip-hop and Lady Gaga than educating its young. Another article we read in class was called “We’re No. 1(1)! ” by Thomas L. Friedman. I’d have to say that I do agree with Friedman’s argument much more than Herbert’s. Both of these writers were ultimately hitting at the same line of reasoning but the way each approached it varied significantly.