High School - Great Books Program

Seminars

 

Moderators
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

Discussion Seminars
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 exams.

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.

Participation/Performance Expectations   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.


 

Do I need a particular kind of computer?
You may use either a PC or a Mac.

Is the necessary software expensive?
It's free.

Do we need any special hardware?
You need to have either speakers and a microphone for your computer, or a headset with a microphone.  A good headset can be purchased for about $10.00 at most electronic stores.

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