Great Books Education

I am a firm believer in the liberal arts education. I wasn’t aware of how lacking my education had been until I had taken philosophy during my seminary years. I knew I wasn’t taught all that was true about the Catholic faith but I wasn’t aware of how truth in all subjects leads to a better understanding of God and reality.

One of my professors, Dr. Richard Connell, whom I am very thankful to, introduced me to the idea and the great ideas and Thomas Aquinas College in California that has a Great books program..

I read some of Adler including his book entitled Reforming Education and it convinced me to learn more about it.

I continue to read but I also decided to take a class by the GreatBooks Fondation.

That brings me to Eau Claire, Wisconsin this day for their basic session to teach people how ot lead Shared Inquiry groups for the purposes of having great books groups. These groups run the range from Elementary school to adult programs.

Most of the teachers in my class are in public education of some sort or another and it is quite eye opening. I am pretty sure some of them are shocked to see a priest sitting there and I imagined a grimace or two when I said I worked closely with homeschoolers. All that aside, what is most interesting is their analysis of the story we read to introduce us to the method. The story is Jack and the Beanstalk. I only vaguely remember the story from my youth. I am somewhat shocked to reread it. Basically in this version, I a not sure if others are different, Jack lies, steals, and murders and then lives happily ever after on the fruits of his crimes.

The laughed a bit when I said I don’t think he really lived happily ever after but I was somewhat shocked at some of the reasons for why Jack did what he did.

A few, like myself, said he was motivated by greed. Others thought it was impulse, adventure, low self esteeem, and power and other such things.

Some made the case that it wasn’t Jack’s fault. He was driven to do what he did. He was too dumb to be greedy (I didn’t realize greed took intelligence). And other various reasons. Many of them excusing the fact that he stole, lied and murdered. He was basically a victim.

The end of the story concludes jack living happily ever after because he is now rich and married to a princess.

I am beginning to see how important the homeschooling movement is and Catholic education.

The teachers are for the most part a good group of people though. I have enjoyed talking to some of them. There are a lot of parent volunteers as well, which is nice to see.

While I have learned some good skills int he program I would definitely say I don’t buy all of it. As far as I can tell the goal seems to be for kids to generate as many ideas from the text as possible. I do like the fact that it is good at making kids show why they reached their opinion by making them refer to the text. I wish the Supreme Court would be held to the same standard. What I don’t agree is that generating ideas is the end or goal. Critical thinking is the buzz word. Finding their own meaning. I disagree. I think you should find the authors meaning and then see if you disagree or not with their conclusion.

Also I would hope the stories could teach the children something that they can apply to their own life and would make them better citizens and human beings. When modern educational philosophy gets ahold of something they are committed to value free education. I don’t think the Great Books are value free and tat is why I think they have something to teach us.


9 Responses to “Great Books Education”

  1. Nora Says:

    I know that you support homeschooling – it has been a great joy to watch the Church get a new priest who does understand that there are important benfits to homeschooling. Our pastor, Father Choby, is also a fan. His support has made a great deal of the difference for our Agnus Dei group of homeschoolers in the parish.

    For classical education in the Catholic tradition, I recomend Laura Berquist’s book first: Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum. It is very realistic and flexible. Catholic Heritage Curriculum (Google Catholic Heritage) is great too. Of course, we are doubly blessed in the Diocese of Nashvile not only with a good community of homeschoolers, but the St. Cecilia Motherhouse of Dominicans – talk about teaching! They are gwowing so fast they are having to build entirely new buildings, not just add on. If you have a school, they may have the nuns. They certainly have the charism.

  2. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    They have said that Sioux Falls is too far north for them. I don’t see it because they are in Stillwater, MN. which is further north but we will keep trying. Maybe the ones in Ann Arbor. Please pray for us.

  3. Nora Says:

    Fairy tales, like Mother Goose Rhymes, are a fertile ground for exploration. Jack and the Beanstalk orginated as a very different story: Jack and his mother were the rightful owners of the castle, displaced by an evil giant. It is ultimately because of his unwillingness to harm a woman that he is restored to the castle:
    A current retelling of the story is Mary Pope Osborne’s Kate and the Beanstalk.
    As a general rule the original versions are much more righly textured and nuanced as to good and evil. One of the joys of homeschooling is that we spend a great deal of time on “versions” of familiar stories, comparing the moral messages and considering why they may have changed. I was raised to think of the changes as “Disney-fication, though that may be a bit over simpified itself.

  4. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    I am a big fan of homeschooling. Thanks for the tip. I am looking at ways to bring a truly liberal arts education back to Catholic Grade Schooling. I am going to read Adler’s 3 books on the subject soon.

    Now all we need is a faithful order of teaching sisters in our Diocese. I am praying for that as well.

  5. Jolene Says:

    Father Todd,
    I was wondering, for those who don’t have the opportunity to be homeschooled, what would be the best way to intergrate the Great Books into a public high schoolers education? How could we benefit now instead of waiting until college for such an opportunity. Gratia Tibi!

  6. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    Are you speaking of the institutional level, as in a program for the school, or at the individual level as in what a single person can do for themselves or their children?

  7. Jolene Says:

    Father Todd,
    I was thinking about the best way to intergrate the Great Books program on both a small group and individual level. What would be the best way to go about this?
    -Gratia Tibi

  8. Nora Says:

    I will certainly pray for you and the children too. A range of educational options, seems so very universal doesn’t it?

  9. Tom Says:

    Jack is kin to Brer Rabbit and Anansi the Spider — or perhaps, following Nora, he married into the Trickster Hero family. His virtues are more practical than theological, although his chief virtue is that his stories are so interesting.

    My third-grade son and I just read an Appalachian version of “Fearless Jack” to each other last night, in which Jack lies, bluffs, and lucks his way into enough money to keep his mother and himself in comfort for years. (It was voted the favorite book of his second grade class last year.)

    Folk tales are not told for catechetical purposes, but I do think they nurture the very human desire for storytelling.

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