Middle and High Schools Critical-Thinking Rubric

This rubric was taken from the assessment criteria developed by the Great Books Foundation. It is directed at middle and high school students enrolled in the Junior Great Books Series 7-9 and Great Books Series 1-3. Students are placed into seven different performance levels in three different categories: idea, evidence, and response.

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Library Topic: Great Books Programs

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"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. This comprehensive meta-analysis of empirical studies was...

"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.

Video/Podcast/Media

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...

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On Campus

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