November 10th, 2008

Great Books

The Wall St. Journal had a review today of a new book about the Great Books movement.

I've got kind of a family history with that movement.

My father was at the University of Chicago when it was all the rage under Adler and Hutchins.  He didn't care for it so much.  Found it too backward-focused. He wanted modernity, not medievalism.

I was at Columbia for a couple of years, where, as the review mentions, the classics are still "force-fed" to the undergraduates, even today.  I found that many of the professors had a terrible habit of tearing the books apart according to their own wacky theories.  So, as a student, you didn't really get to encounter the original thinker. I can't tell you how disillusioned I was by this.

My daughter went to St. John's College, which is an "all great books all the time" program. I'm sure the program is not for everybody, but she liked it fine. The instructors there were into close textual analysis, but not into deep deconstruction.

Old books let you trace
how we got to this place.