Quotes on Great Books Programs

"And shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?

We cannot.

Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorised ones only. Let them fashion the mind with such tales, even more fondly than they mould the body with their hands; but most of those which are now in use must be discarded."

trans. Benjamin Jowett
The Online Library of Liberty
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"When, by these gentle ways he begins to be able to read, some easy pleasant book, suited to his capacity, should be put into his hands, wherein the entertainment, that he finds, might draw him on, and reward his pains in reading; and yet not such as should fill his head with perfectly useless trumpery, or lay the principles of vice and folly.

What other books there are in English of the kind of those above mentioned, fit to engage the liking of children, and tempt them to read, I do not know; but am apt to think, that children, being generally delivered over to the method of schools, where the fear of the rod is to inforce, and not any pleasure of the employment to invite, them to learn; this sort of useful books, amongst the number of silly ones that are of all sorts, have yet had the fate to be neglected; and nothing that I know has been considered of this kind out of the ordinary road of the horn-book, primer, psalter, Testament, and Bible."

John Locke
The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, vol. 8
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

“As to their STUDIES, it would be well if they could be taught every Thing that is useful, and every Thing that is ornamental: But Art is long, and their Time is short. It is therefore propos’d that they learn those Things that are likely to be most useful and most ornamental. …

The English Language might be taught by Grammar; … in which some of our best Writers, as Tillotson, Addison, Pope, Algernoon Sidney, Cato’s Letters, &c. should be Classicks: The Styles principally to be cultivated, being the clear and the concise. Reading should also be taught, and pronouncing, properly, distinctly, emphatically; not with an even Tone, which under-does, nor a theatrical, which over-does Nature.”

Benjamin Franklin
National Humanities Center
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"A little attention however to the nature of the human mind evinces that the entertainments of fiction are useful as well as pleasant. That they are pleasant when well written every person feels who reads. But wherein is its utility asks the reverend sage, big with the notion that nothing can be useful but the learned lumber of Greek and Roman reading with which his head is stored?

I answer, everything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue."

Thomas Jefferson
University of Virginia Library
August 3, 1771
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

“In this branch [moral philosophy], therefore, read good books, because they will encourage, as well as direct your feelings. The writings of Sterne, particularly, form the best course of morality that ever was written. Besides these, read the books mentioned in the enclosed paper….

Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates."

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson: Writings
August 10, 1787
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"A part of my occupation, and by no means the least pleasing, is the direction of the studies of such young men as ask it. They place themselves in the neighboring village and have the use of my library and counsel, and make a part of my society. In advising the course of their reading, I endeavor to keep their attention fixed on the main objects of all science, the freedom and happiness of man. So that coming to bear a share in the councils and government of their country, they will keep ever in view the sole objects of all legitimate government."

Thomas Jefferson
The Jefferson Cyclopoedia
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs
Library Topic: What is Education?

"A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real businesses of life. This mass of trash, however, is not without some distinction; some few modelling their narratives, although fictitious, on the incidents of real life, have been able to make them interesting and useful vehicles of a sound morality. Such, I think, are Marmontel’s new moral tales, but not his old ones, which are really immoral. Such are the writings of Miss Edgeworth, and some of those of Madame Genlis. For a like reason, too, much poetry should not be indulged. Some is useful for forming style and taste. Pope, Dryden, Thompson, Shakspeare, and of the French, Molière, Racine, the Corneilles, may be read with pleasure and improvement."

Thomas Jefferson
The Works, Vol. 12
March 14, 1818
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Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing every thing rational in moral philosophy which Greece & Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed has given us what was good of the Stoics; all beyond, of their [doctrines] dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace. Their great crime was in their calumnies of Epicurus and misrepresentations of his doctrines in which we lament to see the candid character of Cicero engaging as an accomplice. The merit of his philosophy is in the beauties of his style. Diffuse, vapid, rhetorical, but enchanting. His prototype Plato eloquent as himself, dealing out mysticisms, uncomprehensible to the human mind, has been deified by certain sects usurping the name of Christians; because in his foggy conceptions, they found a basis of impenetrable darkness whereon to rear fabrications as delirious, of their own invention. These they furthered blasphemously on him whom they claimed as their founder, but who would disarm them, with the indignation which their caricatures of his religion so justly excite."

Thomas Jefferson
Library of Congress
October 31, 1819
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Library Topic: Great Books Programs

The constant appeal of President Hutchins to Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas urgently calls for a very different interpretation from that which is given it. Their work is significant precisely because it does not represent withdrawal from the science and social affairs of their own times. On the contrary, each of them represents a genuine and profound attempt to discover and present in organized form the meaning of the science and the institutions that existed in their historic periods. The real conclusion to be drawn is that the task of higher learning at present is to accomplish a similar work for the confused and disordered conditions of our own day. The sciences have changed enormously since these men performed their task, both in logical method and in results. We live in a different social medium. It is astounding that anyone should suppose that a return to the conceptions and methods of these writers would do for the present situation what they did for the Greek and Medieval eras. The cure for surrender of higher learning to immediate and transitory pressures is not monastic seclusion. Higher learning can become intellectually vital only by coming to that close grip with our contemporary science and contemporary social affairs which Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas exemplify in their respective ways."

John Dewey
The Social Frontier, Vol. III, No. 22
January 1937
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"Why, indeed, should a liberal arts college prescribe an identical course of study for four years for everybody independently of prior preparation and varying capacities, interests and special needs as these are revealed in the processes of instruction? The argument most often advanced for it contains a palpable fallacy. Mark van Doren, whose book is primarily a defense of the St. John's program, writes: 'If liberal education is, it is the same for everybody; the training it requires, in addition to being formal, should be homogeneous through four years — if the best is known, there is no student whom it will not fit, and each should have all of it.' What this says is that if we know what the end of education should be, then the means in every case must be the same no matter how different the individuals whom we are to educate. This is like saying that, since the aim of medicine is to produce health for everybody, if the best diet is known there is no individual whom it will not fit, and each should have all of it. In medicine an argument of this kind is an unfailing mark of a quack. From the truth that medicine has common end for everybody it does not follow that there is a common means of achieving it independently of whether a person has diabetes or leukemia, is thin or fat."

Sidney Hook
Education for the Modern Man
The Dial Press
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"Great books are the only books that may be deemed indispensable, every one of them, to a genuine, sound liberal education."

Mortimer J. Adler Ph.D.
PLAYBOY, The Radical Academy
January 1966
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"Why are all great books and the great ideas the indispensable substance of a lifetime of learning? The great books are great because they are inexhaustibly rereadable, as few books are. Not all of them fulfill this high expectation. But many of them do; as, for example, the fifteen authors one would take to a comfortable island if one could take only fifteen authors to read over and over again in fifteen years. But the others, less great than that, approximate this high ideal of inexhaustible rereadability, or of being studiable over and over again. The great ideas--the 102 that are treated in the Syntopicon--deal with all the basic issues and problems that human beings confront when they think about the world in which they live, themselves, and their society. They are the ideas that all of us have to think about and think with. Without any understanding of them, we have no purchase on the wisdom all of us should seek."

Mortimer J. Adler Ph.D.
Lowell Lecture Series
Harvard Division of Continuing Education
April 11, 1990
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"Exclusive preference for either the past or the present is a foolish and wasteful form of snobbishness and provinciality. We must seek what is most worthy in the works of both the past and the present. When we do that, we find that ancient poets, prophets, and philosophers are as much our contemporaries in the world of the mind as the most discerning of present-day writers. In fact, many of the ancient writings speak more directly to our experience and condition than the latest best sellers."

Mortimer J. Adler Ph.D.
The Radical Academy
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Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"…the end of great books is ethical—to teach us what it means to be genuinely human.

Every major form of literary art has taken for its deeper themes the norms of human nature. What Eliot calls 'the permanent things'—the norms, the standards—have been the concern of the poet ever since the time of Job, or ever since Homer: 'the blind man who sees,' sang of the wars of the gods with men. Until very recent years, men took it for granted that literature exists to form the normative consciousness—that is, to teach human beings their true nature, their dignity, and their place in the scheme of things. Such was the endeavor of Sophocles and Aristophanes, of Thucydides and Tacitus, of Plato and Cicero, of Hesiod and Vergil, of Dante and Shakespeare, of Dryden and Pope."

Russell Kirk
Literature and Belief, Vol. 1
The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal
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Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"This normative purpose of letters is especially powerful in English literature, which never succumbed to the egoism that came to dominate French letters at the end of the eighteenth century. The names of Milton, Bunyan, and Johnson—or, in America, of Emerson, Hawthorne, and Melville—may be sufficient illustrations of the point. The great popular novelists of the nineteenth century—Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope—all assumed that the writer is under a moral obligation to normality—that is, explicitly or implicitly, to certain enduring standards of private and public conduct."

Russell Kirk
Literature and Belief, Vol. 1
The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal
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Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"So I think it is worthwhile to suggest the outlines of the literary discipline which induces some understanding of enduring values. For centuries, such a program of reading though never called a program—existed in Western nations. It powerfully influenced the minds and actions of the leaders of the infant American Republic, for instance. If one pokes into what books were read by the leaders of the Revolution, the framers of the Constitution and the principal men of America before 1800, one finds that nearly all of them were acquainted with a few important books: the King James version of the Bible, Plutarch’s Lives, Shakespeare, something of Cicero, something of Vergil. This was a body of literature highly normative. The founders of the Republic thought of their new commonwealth as a blending of the Roman Republic with prescriptive English institutions; and they took for their models in leadership the prophets and kings and apostles of the Bible, and the noble Greeks and Romans of Plutarch. Cato’s stubborn virtue, Demosthenes' eloquent vaticinations, Cleomenes' rash reforming impulse—these were in their minds’ eyes; and they tempered their conduct accordingly."

Russell Kirk
Literature and Belief, Vol. 1
The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal
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Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"I have begun to wonder whether the experience of the greatest texts from early childhood is not a prerequisite for a concern throughout life for them and for lesser but important literature. The soul’s longing, its intolerable irritation under the constraints of the conditional and limited, may very well require encouragement at the outset. At all events, whatever the cause, our students have lost the practice of and the taste for reading."

Alan David Bloom
Simon and Schuster
May 15, 1988
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

…I will claim unequivocally that 'great books' are a nineteenth-century invention, a product of the Victorian cultural climate. The Victorian age was intellectually and spiritually intoxicated by the greatness of great books, comforted by what F. D. Maurice (in the title lecture of a volume published in 1856) called 'The Friendship of Books' and Alexander Ireland called the 'solace and companionship of books' (in the subtitle of his Book-Lover's Enchiridion [1883]), obsessed with the dangerous proliferation of bad books, and awash in advice never to settle for or to indulge in the second-rate, much less to permit oneself to indulge in a surfeit of journalistic ephemera. Thoreau put it punningly, 'Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.'… From this fascination with the virtue and power of books can be separated out agendas that taken together underlie our century's lingering, still often enraptured belief in 'great' books, what they are and what they can do. These underlying agendas are: 1) the religious or spiritual; 2) the educational or utilitarian; and 3) the evaluative or judgmental. It is evident that there is a very high degree of mutuality between them. Yet they are not identical. As in our modes of liberal education generally, we like to hope we are getting everything of value all together. But in so doing, we risk ending up with nothing very precise at all."

W. B. Carnochan
Stanford Humanities Review, Vol. 6.1
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"Why is it important to teach literary understanding? It is through reading, thinking, and discussing literature that students find alternative ways to gain knowledge and solve problems. Through sharing of understandings they learn not only important content, but also cognitive, critical, and social strategies needed for success in academic courses, work, and life. Living through a literary experience involves exploring meanings, interpretations and perspectives while maintaining an openness to future possibilities."

Judith A. Langer
Elizabeth Close
Center on English Learning & Achievement
September 2001
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"Junior Great Book's long history of success, its flexibility to replace or supplement the traditional reading program, and its extensive replication makes Junior Great Books a program to consider when seeking to improve students' critical and interpretive thinking skills using a text-based approach. The program integrates reading and writing with the study of rich literature and contributes to improving students' reading comprehension vocabulary, writing, and critical thinking skills. Access to local trainers, use of engaging literature, flexibility of use, and its proven success contribute to the notoriety of this long-standing professional development program."

Joellen Killion
National Staff Development Council
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"The great books model is truly a liberal education. It is an interdisciplinary approach. Its proponents argue 'the segregation of knowledge into discrete disciplines introduces artificial divisions in the understanding of reality and the pursuit of knowledge'…. This model is based entirely upon a group of about 100 prescribed books, with no electives and no specialization. The aim is to raise 'questions central to human existence' and 'confront students with the fundamental questions of life, questions that have and will continue to preoccupy and perplex humanity at all times and in all places'…. Students learn through careful reading and rigorous discussion of the classic texts themselves 'rather than the study of textbooks that repackage the insights of the classical authors'…."

Sherry Lue Herzog
A Dissertation In Higher Education Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Texas Tech University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor Of Education
December 2005
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"What then do today’s learners gain by studying the Great Books, the great works of the West and the world in general? For starters, they encounter excellence and permanent, universal values. Even if the excellence of a particular work is not appreciated, readers sharpen their understanding of what they believe excellence to be. While objective criteria, or standards, do exist in art and literature, the Great Books can support a more subjective, diverse view of culture - so long as excellence is the aspiration. Permanent, universal values must be encountered in the context of the promotion of a common good, a common culture."

Tim Lacy
National Great Books Curriculum
November 2005
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"The Great Books, of course, have been much derided and slandered in recent years. Significantly, there has yet to be any attack that I am aware of that is made on the only legitimate basis I see for an attack. Namely, that the Great Books—that Aristotle, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Joyce, and the others—are worthless, second-rate, or just dumb. It is a perennial matter of amazement to me that the attacks are on grounds so ludicrous that their advocates cannot see just how foolish and philistine they appear to be."

Bruce Gans
Britannica Blog
December 11, 2008
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"An education in the Great Books is a potpourri of conflicting views, a set of strongly articulated arguments that continuously strive to refute other views that purportedly comprise a single 'tradition.' The 'Western tradition' is a ferocious and ongoing set of disagreements about the most basic human beliefs."

Patrick J. Deneen
Center for the American University at the Manhattan Institute
March 31, 2010
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"The great books connect us with the past because they invite us to listen to and participate in the great conversations of the ages. 'Great books of every civilization,' says Thoreau, 'are the voices of human experience and as such worth reading and pondering.' They are a form of travel in time and space, allowing us to experience vicariously what others have thought, felt, and even seen. They enlarge our perspectives and strip us of our provincialism. They can free us from our self-imposed nonage and transform us, as Candide was transformed in Voltaire's story, a modern version of Plato's Allegory of the Cave."

J. M. Anderson
Center for the American University at the Manhattan Institute
April 7, 2010
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"NAS identified five problems in U.S. society that are amplified when colleges limit students’ exposure to good books:

1. An inability to distinguish 'the truth' from 'my truth'
2. A tendency to ignore aspects of the world that fall outside the bounds of race, class, and gender
3. A shallow understanding of the human heart
4. A lack of humility and willingness to learn
5. A sense of resentment toward those who are prosperous"

National Association of Scholars
September 12, 2011
Library Topic
Library Topic: Great Books Programs

"While the Marxists marched, another revolution was roiling campus in the 1930s: what the Maroon called 'the war between facts and ideas.' According to Ashley, President Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, professor of law, championed 'ideas': a classical education based on reading and discussing influential texts. Other faculty joined Anton Carlson, professor of physiology, in advocating the pragmatic, fact-based approach to learning of John Dewey.

To put their ideas into practice, Hutchins and Adler in 1931 set up the honors seminar that would become famous: The Great Books of the Western World. Ashley’s good grades earned him admission in the fall of his second year. At a clip of a book a week, students read St. Augustine, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Gustave Flaubert, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and more. Both Adler and Hutchins liked to ask hard questions, Ashley remembers. 'If you gave an answer, then they would ask another question, and another question, and another question, driving you up the wall. You had to fight back with your reasons, and if you saw you were wrong, you had to admit you were wrong and move on.' Adler’s classroom style was almost prosecutorial, and he grew heated as he grilled the students. Then Hutchins would step in, 'very handsome, cool, devastatingly witty,' and question in a more removed, ironic style."

Benjamin Recchie
The Core
The University of Chicago
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Library Topic: Great Books Programs
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Library Topic: Great Books Programs

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Commentary or Blog Post

"Reading the great books takes a lot of effort. Studying masterpieces such as the Odyssey or the works of Shakespeare requires more concentration than picking up a Tom Clancy novel. But, the payoffs can be tremendous." This post from Self Made Scholar, a blog about self-education, gives 10 reasons reading the Great Books can improve your life.

This article discusses the beginning of the great books program, an idea originating in the late nineteenth century, as a bridge was created between Britain and the United States by Matthew Arnold. Arnold critiqued British Victorian culture and "promoted the notion that one should study 'the best that has been thought and said' in the world. In so doing, Arnold’s...

According to Emily Smith, a recent development in the world of Summer camps is the "Great Books Summer Program" at Stanford University. This program introduces junior high and high school students to the great works of the ancients and...

"Father Benedict Ashley, AM’37, lives in a modest, one-room home in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Surrounded by books—he has written 16 himself—he wears the black-and-white habit that Dominican priests and brothers have worn since the Middle Ages. The setting is apt for a priest who is also an influential American Catholic philosopher." This piece goes on to describe Father Ashley's journey...

Christopher Nelson, president of St. John's College, posits "that the way to a liberal education lies through a direct and sustained confrontation with some of the finest works in which the greatest minds of our civilization have expressed themselves, and through rigorous exercise in translation, mathematical demonstration, music analysis, and laboratory science....

David Clemens reflects on his experience as an educator with a Great Books Program. He discusses the benefits of using Great Books as part of a curriculum over a general-education track, and concludes that they should be made available online for all students to access.

Kline discusses the obstacles of implementing a Great Books Program into today's state university system, equating it to "staging a production of 'Fiddler on the Roof' in Saudi Arabia."  Kline writes, "Ironically, at the school, criticism of the program comes not necessarily from ideologues who normally frown on courses about 'dead white guys' but from...

In this piece, Ashley Thorne discusses the attempt to bring Great Books programs to several community colleges throughout the country. According to Thorne, the great books of our culture "have been dismissed by academia as irrelevant in a time when literature’s worth is...

This blog post recounts Bruce Gans' personal experiences as an educator working with minority and nontraditional students.  According to Gans, "I chose the Great Books because it offers unique advantages. It is the most concentrated ready-to-had list of much of the best that has been thought and said that has been compiled objectively using the intrinsic merit...

This brief article outlines the main details of Great Books programs. According to Meehan, the Great Books program began under the direction of John Erskine, and was soon adopted by Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins. Meehan then explains how...

In his post for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Ruse discusses his use of Plato's Republic, Hobbes's Leviathan, and Herbert Spencer's essay the social organism to teach a graduate course on the group and the individual.  An article by English Sociologist W.G. Runciman has criticised the Great Books series and in this post, Ruse responds to...

According to Jane Shaw, "[i]n academia today, Shakespeare has given way to feminist theory, while Plato has been reduced to a paraphrase and the Aeneid to a footnote. But a few scholars and teachers still love Great Books." This article demonstrates the love...

In the wake of attacks against his advocacy for an expanded Great Books program at East Carolina University, Professor John Stevens puts forth several arguments on the merits of the Great Books. Stevens admits that his opponents are correct in claiming that...

The study, 'Beach Books: What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class? 2011-2012' covers 245 colleges and 148 books. It found that most books colleges assigned this year were recent, personal, race-focused, and unchallenging.

This piece explains the inner workings of Shimer College, the Great Books offshoot of the University of Chicago. Johnson describes Shimer as a small campus filled with students...

Anderson writes a response to Deneen's article "Why the Great Books Aren't the Answer," arguing that he misses the point about the Great Books Program. Anderson believes the program educates its students through the way the books are read, reinforcing "the varieties of knowledge, the skills, and the habits of thought and mind appropriate to free and cultured human...

Patrick Deneen critiques the Great Books Program as a means to education American students. He says, "These texts are hardly primers on liberal democracy or any other political, ethical or economic system, but rather contain a wide and ranging set of debates over the nature of the good and best life, the good and best polity, the good and best economic system, and...

Chart or Graph

"The following graph, based upon data presented by Casement (2001), shows the distribution of program start dates (some colleges or universities have more than one great books program)."

This chart shows how the Junior Great Books aligns with lessons from Montgomery County Public Schools. It identifies the instructional focus of each lesson and the corresponding selection from the Junior Great Books Program for four quarters.

This rubric was taken from the assessment criteria developed by the Great Books Foundation.

This rubric, developed by the Great Books Foundation, is used to measure a student's critical thinking skills.

Analysis Report White Paper

"Anecdotal records before and after the program indicated that participants exhibited enthusiasm in vocabulary development, increased interest in literature, and positive attitudes toward the special reading program."

"The role of classroom discussions in comprehension and learning has been the focus of investigations since the early 1960s. Despite this long history, no syntheses have quantitatively reviewed the vast body of literature on classroom discussions for their effects on students’ comprehension and learning."

"From 1987 to 1995, Judith Langer and a team of field researchers took a close look at what happens in classrooms that help students engage in deep understanding of literature. They worked with teachers of grades 1-12 and the first year of college to learn more about how readers think when they read and discuss literature...."

"Three schools in Chicago adopt a program in which students and teachers explore a wide range of literature. In the process, teachers and administrators discover that all students want to read, to think, and to discuss their ideas."

This report focuses on the benefits of the Junior Great Books program. It includes an analysis of the Shared Inquiry Method, the creation of a Junior Great Books Curriculum, and a description of this curriculum. Additionally, this report includes a section on assessing a new and rising Junior Great Books Program.

This dissertation examines the Great Books model of education and then compares it with other forms of education strategies. Herzog offers a variety of background on different education philosophies (including the Great Books philosophy) and then analyzes the program at one of the premier Great Books colleges in America.

This extensive study assesses various high school programs in the language arts, mathematics, science, interdisciplinary, and social sciences. Chapter five compares language arts programs throughout the country, including the Junior Great Books Program.

According to Carnochan, the idea of "Great Books" took hold in the Victorian era. Carnochan traces the evolution of the movement, especially focusing on the decades before 1900, after which Great Books programs took off in academia.

Featuring an assessment of the state of Great Books programs on college campuses, this piece describes how Great Books programs began and how they have fared in recent years. Casement comes to the conclusion that many Great Books courses are now viewed as elitist and are often only pursued by students taking honors classes.


In this lecture Professor Nash explores how books and libraries molded the "remarkable elite that made and preserved the American Revolution."

"Philosopher Mortimer Adler talked about the history and significance of the Great Books of the Western World college courses and adult education programs. He said that in 1921 John Erskine introduced the first Great Books course at Columbia University. Later Professor Adler introduced the Great Books to University of Chicago Law School President Robert Maynard...

This video discusses the Great Books Program's recognition by the National Staff Development Council and the National Education Association for an increase in student achievement in elementary, middle, and high school students.

"English professor takes Great Books behind prison walls. Some college students may grumble about reading assignments, but Dr. Philip Phillips has found an eager group of students who don't grumble about assignments and who never show up late for class."

This video provides an overview of the Great Books Program emphasizing the Roundtable component in a middle school classroom.

"Learn more about the Shared Inquiry discussion, a proven method to help learners to read and think critically. This Public Broadcasting Service production demonstrates the unique way that children in Buckhorn, KT and the Bronx, NY discussed the same story from a selection in the Great Books Foundation Junior Great Books series."...

"Members of a Great Books discussion group talked about The Essential Koran: The Heart of Islam, selected and translated by Thomas F. Cleary. This collection of readings from the Koran is designed to help introduce non-Muslim Westerners to the sacred book of Islam and to appreciate some of its central ideas and essential beauties."

"The Junior Great Books Program is a revolutionary language arts program that has helped students increase their reading comprehension, develop stronger critical-thinking skills, and improve their writing. The video is an overview of the program with third grade students working with the story 'Ooka and the Honest Thief'."

"Fifteen members of a Great Books discussion group talked about The Road to Serfdom, first published by Austrian-born economist Friedrich Hayek in 1944. The group discussed this work in connection with many topics, including China, Afghanistan, Enron, and the role of governments in regulating business. Not all group members are identified. Hayek's book is...

Primary Document

Sidney Hook writes a criticism of the St. John's College curriculum, which is based entirely on the Great Books Program. He identifies problems with the aspect that all students read the same literature, without any attention to individual components. Believing that the aims of St. John's curriculum does not meet the aims of the liberal arts education, he calls it...

This link contains a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Robert Skipworth in response to the latter's inquiry on the type of books with which he should fill...

This document, created by the Great Books Foundation, includes assessment tools and strategies for students enrolled in the Junior Great Books Series 2-6.  The rubrics and work sheets allow students to "reflect on everyone's progress using the Shared Inquiry Method."

This document contains the assessment guidelines and tools for middle and high school students in the Junior Great Books Series 7-9 and the Great Books Series 1-3.  Included are rubrics for critical-thinking, writing, and activities, as well as assessment strategies for discussions and the final portfolio.

The opening pages of John Stuart Mill's autobiography describe the rigorous education of his formative years. Mill obtained much of his education through reading, and although his father did allow him to read...

A key foundational work in philosophical writings, Plato’s Republic is considered to be "the first treatise upon education." As the introduction notes, Plato’s educational philosophies are expressed specifically in the second section of the ...

Frederic William Farrar was an open advocate of Great Books in the late nineteenth century. In the preface of this book, Farrar notes that “[t]he following chapters are reprints of papers which have appeared in the Sunday Magazine. They were written with the single desire to be of use, especially to young readers, who in these days, when books are so abnormally...

"This packet is designed to help you plan and write a proposal for a Junior Great Books Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) project or other grant-funded project at your school.
Here are some tips as you begin developing your proposal:

  1. Base your proposal on your specific school needs. Start by reviewing your evaluation...

"The alignment charts provide guidance in aligning Junior Great Books stories with lessons in the MCPS Reading, Writing, Language Arts instructional guides. Teachers may select different Junior Great Books stories beyond the ones suggested to address students' interests and needs."

Encouraging his nephew to carefully apply himself to his studies, Thomas Jefferson suggests a variety of worthwhile reading material to help Peter Carr develop his mind. In addition to the list of reading material included in the letter, Jefferson also expounds on...

In late 1936 and early 1937 the famous educational theorist John Dewey issued a set of rebuttals to Robert Hutchins' book, The Higher Learning in America. Hutchins' book...

This document provides several thoughts from Benjamin Franklin on the type of education needed in the early colonial days. Among Franklin's lengthy list of educational ideas is the notion that America's children should be properly...

In late 1936 and early 1937 the famous educational theorist John Dewey issued a set of rebuttals to Robert Hutchins' book, The Higher Learning in America. Dewey uses his...

This document contains the readings list for the second semester at St. John's College. Divided by class year (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior), it is broken down by day with each assigned reading. St. John's College is unique in that it is run entirely on the Great Books Program, with no majors or separate classes, and each student working on the same...

In the eyes of John Locke, the education of a child includes more than books and schooling. Indeed, Locke’s thoughts on education cover the whole physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional being of the...

Written in 1966, this piece attempts to predict which works from the twentieth century will be considered Great Books in 2066. Before unveiling his list, Adler describes the characteristics and qualifications for a Great Book. His final list includes works by 13 men,...

This is a lecture given by Mortimer J. Adler, co-founder of the Great Books Foundation, at Harvard University as part of the Lowell Lecture Series. Adler identifies three objectives to schooling: "preparation for earning a living; preparation for intelligent fulfillment of one's civic duty, to be a good citizen of the republic; preparation for fulfilling one's...

"The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia is designed to be a complete classified arrangement of the Writings of Thomas Jefferson on Government, Politics, Law, Education, Commerce, Agriculture, Manufactures, Navigation, Finance, Morals, Religious Freedom, and many other topics of permanent human interest. It contains everything of importance that Jefferson wrote on these subjects."

In this piece, Russell Kirk relates the downward spiral of society to the moral decline in literature. Kirk argues that "the moral imagination" needs to be fed by good literature which properly addresses the facets of human nature. In light of these...

"The goal of Great Books programs is to instill in adults and children the habits of mind that characterize a self-reliant thinker, reader, and learner. Great Books programs are predicated on the idea that everyone can read and understand excellent literature—literature that has the capacity to engage the whole person, the imagination as well as the intellect. As a...

"A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so...

This letter, written by Thomas Jefferson to William Short in 1819 while at Monticello, tells of his opinion on some of the most prominent philosophers, Epicurus, Plato and Cicero, all considered part of the Great Books series. Jefferson writes on the merits of these men as both writers and thinkers, giving more credibility to some over others. He says of Plato, "...

Addressed to John Garland Jefferson, this letter intended to help the aforementioned establish himself in a law career. Thomas Jefferson thus recommends a course of study which includes a...

The opening paragraph of this letter seeks to thank Thomas Jefferson for attempting to collect a variety of books for Madison while the former was abroad. Madison then goes on to list some...

This letter to Thomas Jefferson gives Madison's opinion as to what books should be included in the "Theological Catalogue for the Library of the University." Madison's list includes works by...

This piece finds Dr. Adler discussing two ways in which the Great Books can be read. Dr. Adler describes these two ways as the scholarly approach and the philosophical approach. According to Adler, the Great Books contain both truth and error, and using both of the...

This document contains Dr. Adler's response to a letter which inquired about the value modern people can obtain from reading ancient works. Dr. Adler explains that while it is true that many of the ancient writers had no clue about modern circumstances, they...