Sunday, August 24, 2008

Great Books Programs - Lifelong Learning

From the August 20, 2008 edition of Bookselling This Week:

A funny thing happened when R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut, announced its new, ongoing Great Books Seminar Program -- a monthly seminar designed to provide people with the opportunity to study and discuss the great works of literature, philosophy, and history. Very quickly, post-college adults were showing up in droves to register to study the classics

Fittingly, it was a book that inspired Coady to launch the Great Books Seminar Program in March 2008. "A friend of ours, [Yale Professor] Tony Kronman wrote a book called Education's End, Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life [Yale University Press]," said Coady.

The book discusses how the most important question one can ask in life -- What is living for? -- has been removed from university classrooms and calls for its return in humanities studies.

...how incredibly life-affirming it is to see adults participate for the pure pleasure of learning. I think this is a great opportunity for all independents. Being in a bookstore [for a class] is very exciting -- there are a lot of people who want this opportunity.

Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life By Anthony T. Kronman Published by Yale University Press, 2007 ISBN 0300122888, 9780300122886 308 pages

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Anyone interested? I am a member of the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas whose founder, Mortimer Adler, was the leading proponent of a Great Books curriculum at the University of Chicago which pre-dated many of today's Great Books colleges such as St. John's College in Annapolis and Santa Fe.

A great books program for adults and the Great Books Foundation were also founded in Chicago and Adler actively promoted the idea of great books discussion groups for adults. The foundation of the Great Books Movement now serves as the basis for numerous home schooling programs and the Great Books Foundation provides teacher and book group leadership training in the shared inquiry method of discussion which is at the core of the program.

The Directed Studies Program at Yale University, discussed in Kronman's book, is another curriculum based upon similar principles, which seeks to promote the value of the Western Canon of Literature in helping students understand what it means to live a good life.

If anyone is interested in attending similar seminars I am sure Max Weisman from the Center would be pleased to help us get started.

2 comments:

etc at Fierce and Nerdy said...

Funnily enough, one of our Fierce and Nerdy bloggers just posted about reading The Great Books as an adult.

As a black feminist, I poo-pooed "The Great Books" as "dead white male literature" while in college. But I recently decided to get a set of Great Books for our home, as I'm interested in reading about what adults thought of the world back then, now that I'm an adult myself.

I feel that The Great Books shouldn't be forced on the young -- I think that they are probably too young to truly appreciate them, and I don't know that they necessarily teach true critical thinking about life, so much as critical thinking about what to put in the essay.

Also, I hope that as the Western world ages, that it our great books will become more reflective of our culture. Hopefully, my grandchildren will dismiss the great books as "dead people literature" when they are assigned to read them in college. :)

Joni said...

I need to look Fierce and Nerdy up and visit your community.

Many of us have branded the Great Books as "dead white male literature" and dismissed the value and relevance of these works to our current culture. But, in many ways we hold certain beliefs and our culture has evolved from the thoughts expressed by these "dead white men". So while I don't see the necessity of studying all of these works in depth, I do think gaining a general understanding of how our culture and understanding of the world and our position within it has evolved will help us to better understand how we got to where we are today and what lies ahead.

From what I have read about Adler and other proponents of the The Great Books curriculum, there is not any intention of excluding later and more contemporary works from what is viewed as a conversation between the ages, but rather, they see the Great Books as providing a foundation upon which to increase our ability to think about what we deem to be important or relevant.

So I do believe and hope that your grandchildren will have the benefit of understanding what made Socrates a great thinker while also having the opportunity of studying the ideas of Dubois along with the beautiful rhetoric and words of Martin Luther King.

I am not a teacher, but as one that grew up in the era when learning about these dead white men and their thoughts was in general disrepute, I often feel I have missed something in my education. I would think or hope that there is a way of introducing some of these writings to the young in a way that brings the words to life and truly encourages critical thinking. I agree that merely reading and being asked to write an essay on the words is not the way to help the young to appreciate the value in these books. Rather, as Adler suggests, it is during the process of informed, prepared, active and spirited discussion, where the words of these foundational thinkers come to life, can be understood and become relevant to the world we live in today.

Thank you for stopping by Paragraphs - I appreciate your comments.