Great Books

Of course, the only serious solution is the one that is almost universally rejected: the good old Great Books approach, in which a liberal education means reading certain generally recognized classic texts, just reading them, letting them dictate what the questions are and the method of approaching them—not forcing them into categories we make up, not treating them as historical products, but trying to read them as their authors wished them to be read. I am perfectly well aware of, and actually agree with the objections to the Great Books cult. It is amateurish; it encourages an autodidact’s self-assurance without competence; one cannot read all of the Great Books carefully; if one only reads Great Books, one can never know what a great, as opposed to an ordinary, book is; there is no way of determining who is to decide what a Great Book or what the canon is; books are made the ends and not the means; the whole movement has a certain coarse evangelistic tone that is the opposite of good taste; it engenders a spurious intimacy with greatness; and so forth. But, one thing is certain: wherever the Great Books make up a central part of the curriculum, the students are excited and satisfied, feel they are doing something that is independent and fulfilling, getting something from the university they cannot get elsewhere. The very fact of this special experience, which leads nowhere beyond itself, provides them with a new alternative and a respect for study itself. The advantage they get is an awareness of the classic—particularly important for our innocents; an acquaintance with what big questions were when there were still big questions; models, at the very least, of how to go about answering them; and, perhaps most important of all, a fund of shared experiences and thoughts on which to ground their friendships with one another. Programs based upon judicious use of great texts provide the royal road to student’s hearts. Their gratitude at learning of Achilles or the categorical imperative is boundless. Alexander Koyre, the late historian of science, told me that his appreciation for America was great when—in the first course he taught at the University of Chicago, in 1940 at the beginning of his exile—a student spoke in his paper of Mr. Aristotle, unaware that he was not a contemporary. Koyre said that only an American could have the naïve profundity to take Aristotle as living thought, unthinkable for most scholars. A good program of liberal education feeds the student’s love of truth and passion to live a good life. It is the easiest thing in the world to devise courses of study, adapted to the particular conditions of each university, which thrill those who take them. The difficulty is in getting them accepted by the faculty.

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 344-345.

Many Thanks!

I would like to thank the several writing teachers that I have learned from.

The Great Courses:

James Hynes. Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques.

Tilar J. Mazzeo. Writing Creative Nonfiction.

The University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education:

Theo Pauline Nestor. Specializes in Memoir.

Scott Driscoll: Specializes in Fiction.

Classes:

Terry Persun. Wrote Cathedral of Dreams and many others.

William Kenower. Wrote Fearless Writing.

Homeless

While working on my Certificate in Writing from the University of Washington, I had this method of making my way down to Seattle for classes. One of my stops was the parking lot for the University Bookstore. I befriended a homeless guy that would sit by the door into the bookstore. One day, I asked him if he would like to have his family tree done. He was both surprised and flattered and said that he had always wondered if his family could be traced back to the American Revolution. I took out some paper and got the basic information I needed and his cellphone number. I told him I would text him with what I found. After class, I went home and got to work on his family tree. After about twenty minutes I texted him and gave him the great news that I had indeed traced his family tree back to the Revolution. The next week I brought him a printed copy of his family tree. We still keep in contact.

In the Words of Ray Bradbury: Ten Quotes — Plucked Stacks

When I was in high school, I used to keep a tiny notebook with me whenever I was reading a library book so that I could quickly jot down quotes I loved. Ray Bradbury broke me of this habit. I still remember the first time I was introduced to his work—the unsettling short piece “All […]

In the Words of Ray Bradbury: Ten Quotes — Plucked Stacks