How Discussion Courses Work

Great Discourses’ Great Books discussion courses are “collaborative close readings of classics” in which participants read and discuss great books with the guidance of a professional educator in ways that help participants transform the challenging into the exhilarating and elevating through “Aha!” moments of profound discovery — while at the same time sharpening their critical thinking, critical empathy and collaboration skills; maintaining their general mental fitness; and forming new friendships. All while having lots of fun. These courses do not require specialized prior knowledge or experience, but typically do require a modest amount of reading homework in preparation for each live class session. There are no papers, no tests and no grades, and all readings and discussions are in English.

High-Touch Art of Assisting Discovery

In such courses, the instructor is not a “sage on the stage” expertly lecturing about the meaning of the text, but rather a “guide on the side” expertly facilitating each student’s first-hand engagement with the material, usually by asking questions (or what is sometimes known as “the Socratic Method”). Such courses thus organically evolve from teacher-centered events into student-centered ones as students gain traction with the text, moving around in it, exploring for themselves, raising their own questions and responding directly to each other. Indeed, from our point of view, a truly successful Great Books discussion course is one in which the teacher has become largely unnecessary by the end of it.

Read, Think, Listen, Speak

As should be evident, the success or failure of a Great Books discussion course will depend on the combined contributions of all participants. Both for their own benefit and for the benefit of their classmates, all Great Discourses students are encouraged to take an active role in each class session and therefore to also prepare for each class session by doing assigned readings in a thoughtful and open-minded manner. This will require time and concentration.

Honesty, Evidence, Respect, Fun

A critical exploration of a great book requires that participants ask honest, tough questions of the text, of themselves and of other participants. A collaborative exploration of a great book requires that participants treat the text, themselves, and each other with respect. It is Great Discourses policy that participants may argue for or against anyinterpretation of a text, so long as they ground their argument in evidence drawn from the text itself and they acknowledge that others may hold points of view different from their own — and that they have a good time doing it!

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