On Great Books Programs

On Great Books Programs

In a holding pattern. Nothing new to report from the home front, so I decided to do some digital housecleaning and see what things I’d meant to blog on that had fallen through the cracks.

From the “I meant to blog it; but never finished the post” archives: This past fall I discovered a great series of posts about education at The Grail Code blog, whose archives, by the way, are a fun place to poke around in; all sorts of hidden treasures abound.

First, some strong opinions about teaching reading to children:

My theory, if you can dignify it with that title, of teaching reading is simple: at every stage, you must reinforce the idea that reading itself is the reward. You do that with great stories. In a religious school, for example, you could use stories from the Bible. Take that one about the youths who mocked Elisha and were torn to pieces by bears (2 Kings 2:23-24). Kids love that story, but for some reason they never hear it in Sunday school anymore. Once they learn there�s stuff like that in the Bible, and they can only get at it by reading it themselves, they�ll be hooked. I need hardly mention that, for older children, the stories of King Arthur and his knights can be the beginning of a lifelong obsession.

Next, an extended discussion about great books programs: what they are, how it works, why they are a superior method of education for everyone, and why a great books program is the most democratic form of education and will help to prevent tyranny.

And, to whet your appetite, an excerpt from What really happens in the classroom:

I do remember, though, that what was particularly interesting was that students who had been low achievers in standard school programs showed even more improvement than students who had been high achievers. The great-books method was actually accomplishing democratic education, by giving students the thinking skills they need in the real world, and by raising the low achievers closer to the level of the high achievers.

It doesn�t seem too hard to see why that might happen. In the seminar method of learning, you have to be able to judge conflicting assertions on their merits. You also have to be able to frame questions that will get you the information you need, and you need to be able to judge whether the answer really answered your question.

If you�re in a position of authority�a teacher in a high school, let�s say, or president of France�you have to make decisions based on conflicting information and opposing assertions. That�s just what a great-books education prepares you to do. It�s just what a standard education discourages you from doing.

Once again, I could put it in terms designed to offend and provoke you. Ordinary education prepares you to be a docile follower; great-books education prepares you to be a leader. Ordinary education makes good citizens of a tyranny; great-books education makes good citizens of a democracy. No one who has learned to argue with Plato will take something as Gospel truth just because some political leader says it�s so.

Read all of the great books discussion here:

1 Great books to the rescue

2 The saboteurs of democracy

3 Am I being fair?

4 Great books: what really happens in the classroom

5 Great books for every subject

6 Which books are “great”?


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1 comment
  • Hi Melanie!
    Not sure if you’re still bored or finally in labor. For your sake, I’m hoping the latter. In case of the former, I’ll throw my 2cents in here. If you don’t get to it, understandable. You have a newborn!

    First, I think your link “list of books that one would need to start…“links back to your site.

    But for seconds, and I plan to put this on his blog, but I think how to teach is just as important as the content. From my years in youth ministry I was never about just Sunday night youth group meeting or having games, I was always about full on formation which included catechesis, so I often would take a class to “teach”.

    Then i came back to the University and took catechesis classes only to find out that I was right! Only right because of the grace of God, not my own brilliance. Clearly.

    I would throw a few more books on there in regards to “how”:
    1. The Mystery We Proclaim by Msgr Kelly.
    2. Educational Philosophy of St John Bosco
    3.  St. Augustine: The First Catechetical Instruction
    4.  Anything by Joseph D. White, PhD
    5. Anything from his publisher, OSV
    6. Nothing, and I mean nothing from Moran, Bill Huebsch, Bob McCarty, or other movers and slayers of the Faith.
    7. Get a subscription to either OSV’s Catechist Companion or The Sower (sorry Dom!) which is the joint journal put out by the University and Maryvale in England and Notre Dame di Vie in France.

    So if you know of folks who need the info, get them this list! Now, over to Fr Philip…