The Great Books seminars are routinely conducted by two
(2) moderators. This has several advantages besides the
obvious one of drawing on the learning and experience of
two, rather than one, moderators. Additionally, we
sometimes substitute moderators from different classes or
even bring in outside moderators who are often from major
universities or colleges with wide experience in the
classics, literature, philosophy or other related areas.
This wealth of knowledge makes for an enriching experience
and also allows us to trade notes on the students
(particularly by the two regular moderators) to obtain
various perspectives and opinions regarding the assessment
of individual students.
Detail, School of Athens, by Raphael
The seminars are identical for students on whether they are on
the regular track or the college credit track. Students
from each track are mixed in the classes. These are led
by two moderators and last two hours. Your class time will be
at the same time each week, barring exceptional circumstances.
Following are elements of the seminars which will give you a
better idea of what the moderators are evaluating as they
learn with you in the seminars:
Prerequisite Reading Students are
expected and required to have read the assigned weekly reading
and poem. Failure to do so will inevitably result in poorer
performance in writing, in class discussion, and in oral
Attendance Students may miss up to three
(3) seminars a year (i.e. over a two semester period beginning
in September and ending in May). Exceptional circumstances may
allow for reasonable exceptions.
Students are expected to be courteous, considerate, interested
and reasonably serious (though the classes are very often
punctuated with humor and laughter). The classes, since they
conform to the natural human desire to learn and derive
pleasure from that, are generally fun and enjoyable learning
experiences for students and teachers. The classes also need to be
safe emotionally that is, we do not allow any unkindness,
biting sarcasm, personal attacks nor disruptive behavior. The
moderators lead the classes and their instructions are meant
to be listened to and followed.
Effort Students will be expected to make
a genuine effort to listen carefully, to share their
reflections or thoughts about the reading by speaking, and to
draw conclusions from the discussions. However, each student
is different and no uniform standard is expected: some
students are naturally reticent, some loquacious, some witty,
some dry. Temperaments vary as well. The moderators are
skilled at conducting these seminars. They recognize these
differences and take them into account in evaluating students.
Certainly, the one who speaks the most does not necessarily
say the most. Listening with attention to others is more
important than speaking. If a student is not listening
well he is less likely to contribute well to the conversation.
Growth/Development Students are expected
to learn something from these classes and readings, in fact,
they are expected to learn a great deal (as detailed in the
individual course syllabi following). But they are not
expected to develop primarily their short-term memories, stuff
them with unrelated factoids and trivia and disgorge them onto
tests. No, rather we expect
students to gain understanding of the topics read about and
discussed. As Dr. Adler noted, What is memorized is easily
forgotten, what is understood is never forgotten. We have
listed the most commonly discussed topics covered, below.
Rhetorical Skills Students will be
expected gradually to improve their learning skills: reading,
listening, speaking, logic, debate, proper diction,
pronunciation, coherence, analysis, synthesis. No beginning
student has all of these well-developed. We do not expect
that. We do expect students gradually to improve these skills,
which, happily, is accomplished almost unconsciously by
participation in the seminars each week. Minds and rhetorical skills are sharpened by discussion.
However, this is not a debate class, it is a learning class
conducted in an attitude of mutual inquiry a community
learning together. The moderators as well as the students learn
from the readings and seminars. They are not simply lecturers
and the students mere information sponges. Rather, the great
books are the teachers and the discussions the joint
exploration and discovery of the ideas contained therein.
Insight Einstein said: I have little
patience for scientists who take a block of wood, look for its
thinnest part, and drill a number of holes where the drilling
is easy. Insight, penetration of an idea, thoughtful
consideration and studious reflection these are elements of
great value and result in learning of the sort we all
appreciate and which may help society. Students will be
exposed to these in the discussions and will gradually be
expected to add these skills according to their natural
capabilities - to the others.
Integration Each semester of the program
builds on the previous semester and prepares for the
subsequent one. Like building blocks, or better, the
increasingly higher spirals of the eagle as it soars upwards,
students are expected gradually to integrate the higher
portions of the programs with the lower. In fact, all of the
program is recommended for both lower and upper division
college credit as all of it is related and follows the
chronological sequence of human intellectual discovery.