A “Great Books” Education

in Blabber, Philosophy

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Have you heard of this?  Of course you have.  It’s everywhere.  But people are doing it with different aims and for different reasons.

When I started homeschooling, I was barreling my kids through as many great works as I could.  I was going for “exhaustive.”  It was like going through the Museum of Natural History on a fast moving sidewalk.  No time to dawdle!  Must move along!

Later, I was doing it for a Cultural Literacy kind of education.  There were KEY books that a child needed know to be “educated” and be able to read sophisticated articles and participate in sophisticated conversations.

But, so much of classical ed material was talking about BEAUTY.  Some “great books” were conspicuously missing from our book lists.  We were even tossing out “great works of art” from our cards because they “were not beautiful.”  What’s going on?  Here’s a quote from the Thomas Aquinas College site (emphasis mine):

“Yet the great books are not the objects of study at the College. Students here do not read these works…as outstanding examples of the creativity of the human spirit (though that they certainly are). Nor do they read them to become more familiar with Western culture and civilization (valuable though that is). Rather, Thomas Aquinas College students read the great books because, more than any other works, when studied under the light of the teaching Church, they can open up the truth about reality.

By reading and discussing the great books, with their vigorous — and sometimes conflicting — arguments, students here learn how to discern the truth, how to distinguish it from error, and how to defend it. They become gradually ever more like Aristotle’s exemplar of the liberally educated person, “critical in all or nearly all the branches of learning,” able to live a truly free and humane life — a life lived in the truth.”

Ah-ha!  When we look at methodology, it helps to know the what the aims are, and especially helpful to know what they’re not.  Ours is formation.  That formation comes from memory and observation of beautiful stuff, but most of all analytical DISCUSSION.  That’s the main formative thrust of our methodology.  Not exposure, discussion.  Lots of it.

It also makes sense to me now why certain books are exempted from our early grades, or saved until later.  When kids are very young, they are not prepared to to “discern truth…distinguish it from error…and how to defend it.”  But, we can be very intentional about what we put in front of them to craft a TASTE for the good, true, and beautiful.  Why fill their heads with ugly art?  Famous stories with questionable moral codes?  Can’t they read them later when their equipped to discuss and disagree with the content?

Oh, this makes so much sense to me!  I’m telling you, I’m going to re-read every school resource I own.  Get ready to nerd out.



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