Our Educational Approach

Our Educational Approach

Although learning and growing is generally associated with youth, science, history and personal experience all teach us that we must continue to learn and grow throughout adulthood if we are to flourish — mentally, emotionally, and even physically — in our personal, professional and civic lives. Learning and growing as part of a group is especially effective and fun, and provides social connectedness as well.

Learning to Flourish

The collaborative close reading of classics thus turns out to be a nearly-ideal form of lifelong liberal education because it offers all of these benefits plus one more — the nearly-endless opportunity to profit from both the insights and the errors of great thinkers who struggled to flourish before us.

Transforming the Challenging

In our judgment, a Great Books discussion course requires the presence of four essential elements if it is to facilitate flourishing:

  1. Something great to read and discuss — a “great book”, or what English cultural critic Matthew Arnold called “the best which has been thought and said”;
  2. Great students who are willing to do the work necessary to actively engage the reading, other participants and their own preconceptions;
  3. A great venue that is conducive to discussions that are both thoughtful and playful; and,
  4. A great teacher whose expertise in the high-touch art of assisting discovery in lifelong liberal education structures both the course as a whole and the individual class discussions.

When these four elements are present, a fifth naturally arises:

  1. The great experience of fun and well-being that only an active, shared life of the mind can elicit.

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 any interpretation 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!

Master Challenging Classics Yourself, Together

We invite you to experience our educational approach for yourself in one of our free online introductory classes. We think you’ll find Great Discourses to be a great addition to your life and we look forward to meeting you. Please contact us if you have questions or want additional information.


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Philosophy in Prison
Damon Horowitz @ TEd Talks
An inspiring account of the exhilaration and elevation wrought by the kindling of intellectual curiosity.
5th Century BCE, Athens
“One thing I am ready to fight for as long as I can, in word and act, is that we shall be better, braver and more active men if we believe it right to look for what we don’t know than if we believe there is no point in looking because what we don't know we can never discover. ”