John Andrew Rice: Rector of Black Mountain College

Written after he was ousted from his position as founder and rector of the Black Mountain School (he had been sleeping with his students), John Andrew Rice wrote an autobiography called I Came Out Of The 18th Century (1941) in which he describes his remarkable mission as a teacher and provides some insight into his downfall.


“At the first meeting of a college that was to start the revolution in American education the frist speaker called was the permeanent caretaker, who would explain fire precautions.” (321) … “We had, by an insticting as old as man, gone up on a mountain, there to make our living sacrifice.  We would conquer or die.  One could almost hear the old worlds, the old wrong words.  The wise, the really wise, know, have always known, that they are wrong, that the order is wrong, and the ‘or’ is wrong. “Die and conquer,” those are the words and the order. Humility, the wise have said, is the beginning of life. We had no humility, not a tittle.”


“Teaching is a secondary art. A man is a good teacher if he is a better something else; for teaching is communication, and his better something else is the storehouse of the things he will communicate.  I have never known a master in any field who was not also a master teacher; but to be a master teacher in Black Mountain one had to be a master man.  In other places education was part of the day and part of the man; in Black Mountain it was round the clock and all o fa man.  There was no escape.  Three meals together, passing in the hall, meeting in classes, meeting everywhere, a man taught by the way he walked, by the sound of his voice, by every movement.  That was what it was intended to be, the fulfillment of an old idea, the education of the whole man: by a whole man.” [322 — what a goal!]


“I used to say ‘This is a school for giants.’ I meant that every one of us should grow to the giant that it was in him to be; not some one else’s giant, but his own.  Few are by nature dwarfs, however many may have been dwarfed.  Few are by nature stupid; most of the rest are stupefied.  That was what I believed.  That is what I believe.” 322-23


“People thing they want something new and different, think they want freedom, but what they really want is the old things changed enough to make them feel comfortable.”  [328]


“The center of the curriculum, we said, would be art. The democratic man, we said, must be an artist. The integrity, we said, of the democratic man was the integrity of the artist, an integrity of relationship… The artist, we said was not a competitor. He competed only with himself. His struggle was inside, not against his fellows, but against his own ignorance and clumsiness. The painting was his integrity, the score, the words of a play, and, at last, understanding, the will and the skill to do with his fellows, with the corporation, what he had done with paints and sounds: the integrity that was a relationship between himself and the corporation.  But just as the painter must learn to paint, starting with ignorance and clumsiness, so this new artist, this creator of integrity between himself and his fellows, must know and know how, must have knowledge and skill.  Also just as the artist would not paint his picture with muddy colors, so this artist must see clear colors in humanity; and must himself be clear color, for he too was his fellow artist’s color, sound, form, the material of his art. But, different from pigment, bow, granite, not used up in the use; rather, made more of what he would be, a note within the symphony, the clearer for having been written; giving up, and asked to give up, nothing of himself. That was the integrity of the artist as artist. That should be the integrity of man as man.” [328-329]  I Came Out of the 18th Century.


“The English, in their blundering intelligent way, had found the answer: not a college, but many; a community of colleges, a universitas; perhaps they would not all be fools at once.. Our sanction, we said, was intelligence.” ßcompare to moral obligation to be intelligent, Erskine.


The disposition to consider intelligence in peril is an old Anglo-Saxon inheritance…  [There exists an] assumption that a choice must be made between goodness and intelligence; that stupidity is first cousin to moral conduct, and cleverness the first step into mischief  that reason and God are not on good terms with each other; that the heart and the mind are rival buckets in the well of truth, inexorably balanced—full mind, starved heart—stout heart, weak head. –Erskine

“They [unworthy guests of Black Mountain] could not adjust themselves to the world and the pig-headed world refused to adjust itself to them, so they retired from living and went in for “life” … Besides the permanent staff of seekers after happiness  there were the visitors  T hey tagged themselves when they walked in the door–sometimes earlier….There we other visitors, ‘a citizen of the world,’ oriental philosophers fresh out of the occident, devotees of ‘The Dance’ (the ultimate dehydration of art); disciples of Confucius and heralds of confusion, vegetarians and single-taxers (two in one); reformers  that is, creators of a world in their own image, intellectuals a little on the sparse side when it came to intelligence; labor leaders, trained for their mission by fours years of Harvard, graduates of the Union Theological Seminary, yearners all–these and many others.  They had only one thing in common: disgust of themselves transmitted into disgust of the world. They rejected the college in time, as completely as the Foundations had: they had come looking for experiment and found experience.” [330-333]


 334  I knew too much; for I let people talk themselves out.  But, while they loved to spill, they hated to have spilled, and came to hate the listener.  All of us, I as well as they, might someday have become individuals, artists with the artist’s integrity; but meanwhile we were individualists and dreaded to leave some part of ourselves out of our control, and that is what confession, in frank speech, does….The majority of the men had been unhappy in childhood and hated their fathers.  I knew that, as I was to know what it meant.


                Modern man is looking for a savior, someone to save him from his individualism.  But he cannot find him, for he insists upon the terms of his own salvation. He wants, and needs, to be saved, but he must be, he says, just as he was before.  He is like a fifth century Athenian, all brain and little heart.  He has this choice: to retreat, as the Germans have, to slavery, from which another Christ may come to rescue him—that was what the early Christian was, salve made into man—or else by pushing his individualism as far as it will go, he may come to realize, as Socrates tried to teach him, and failed—Socrates was, after all, an Athenian, as Christ was a Jew—the limits of sheer thinking, and , unafraid, look about him and see his fellows all in the same predicament, speak to them with his heart as well as his mind, acknowledge that they as well as he are both thinker and lover, and losing nothing of himself, find all of himself within all humanity.  If he does, if he has the will to go on, he will discover that he needs no leader, that he is in himself both leader and follower…to be the Christian Socrates, Socratic Christ.



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