Group Therapy with Great Books: On the Remaking of Adults through Lifelong Liberal Re-Education

LECTURES > Previous

Over the 70 years since 1946, the University of Chicago Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults has provided opportunities for intellectually curious adults to read and discuss selected “great books” under the guidance of staff instructors. Why? And why have intellectually curious adults continued to take advantage of these opportunities? In this lecture, I will attempt to answer these and related questions as part of a general reflection on the ends and means of lifelong liberal learning, drawing upon my own 20+ years of experience as a Basic Program instructor along with ideas as old and distant as Socrates’ and as recent and near as those of the late University of Chicago professor Herman Sinaiko. My starting point will be a 1958 observation by Warren Winiarski, then a Basic Program staff instructor, that in the Basic Program:
“[W]e re-open the universal problems and questions, and thus call into question the particular and specific answers which constitute the adultness of adults; we unmake adults — we make adults into children. Adult education of this kind is not a continuing of their education; it is the possibility of their being re-educated. For to be educated in this way means, in so far as the principles, answers and beliefs constitutive of adultness are questioned — to be de-educated or to unlearn what we learned before.”
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‘The Great Conversation’ at Chicago: The First 125 Years

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Chicago — both the city and the university — is arguably the “Great Books Capital of the World”, having developed and disseminated a concept (“The Great Conversation”) and a technique (“The Socratic Method”) that briefly took America by storm in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and even now continues as a flourishing sub-culture. As part of the celebration of the 125th anniversary of founding of the University of Chicago in 1890, this lecture will survey Chicago’s Great Books history and place it within the larger context of the University of Chicago’s enduring adult liberal education mission.

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‘We Must Not Be Afraid To Be Free’: The Trials of George Anastaplo

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

George Anastaplo (1925-2014) has long been a legend for his decade-long Cold War fight against the State of Illinois’s refusal to admit the young World-War-II veteran to the practice of law on the basis of Anastaplo’s assertion of fundamental rights he believed enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. This lecture will combine a review of Anastaplo’s case (from its obscure 1950 Chicago beginning through its famous 1961 U.S. Supreme Court culmination) with a survey of Anastaplo’s understanding of the constitutions of the United States in an attempt to illuminate both the man and the myth.
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“We Must Not Be Afraid To Be Free”: The Trials of George Anastaplo

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

George Anastaplo (1925-2014) has long been a legend for his decade-long Cold War fight against the State of Illinois’s refusal to admit the young World-War-II veteran to the practice of law on the basis of Anastaplo’s assertion of fundamental rights he believed enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. This course will combine a study of Anastaplo’s case (from its obscure 1950 Chicago beginning through its famous 1961 U.S. Supreme Court culmination) with a study of Anastaplo’s views on American fundamental rights.  Readings will include key documents from the case at its various stages as well as selections from Anastaplo’s scholarly works on the U.S. Constitution (plus relevant historical documents), and will be supplemented by an audio recording of Anastaplo’s pro se oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court and the film Judgment at Nuremburg. This course is open to all.
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Online Socratic Method Seminars in Adult Congregation Education: A Look at Today’s Realities and Possibilities

LECTURES > Previous

For most of its history, “distance education” meant correspondence courses in which teachers’ lessons and students’ responses (if any) were transmitted by surface mail. With the development of the Internet, however, it is now possible for individuals who are separated physically to come together intellectually in shared virtual learning environments — including virtual environments that are beginning to support the most “high touch” learning of all: “Socratic Method” seminars structured to facilitate students’ critical, collaborative, first-hand engagement with classic texts. After providing a brief overview of distance education in general and contemporary online learning environments in particular, this lecture will examine the realities and possibilities of online Socratic Method seminars today and consider the contributions that such seminars might make to adult congregation education. Continue reading

Living Well in Hard Times; Or, Why Liberal Education is Not a Luxury

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

In tough economic times, people naturally cut back on “non-essentials,” the little “luxuries” in life they can do without until better times return. For many people, these cuts include “culture” in general and “liberal education” in particular. After all, “great books” and “deep thoughts” don’t pay the rent or put food on the table. This lecture, however, will explore the contrary thesis: that it is precisely in hard times that liberal education is most essential, and “great books” and “deep thoughts” are most valuable — when “living well” most depends upon “living smart.” Continue reading

Great Ideas I

COURSES > UNDERGRADUATE [→ ONLINE ARCHIVE MATERIAL]

This course is designed both to introduce students to some of the major texts of the Western tradition and to help students develop their critical thinking skills, including the ability to understand, assess and formulate logical arguments. To pursue these goals we will read, discuss and write about works loosely organized around two themes: 1) god(s); 2) power.  The oldest of these texts was composed almost 3000 years ago; the most recent was composed about 300 years ago. Continue reading

Great Ideas II

COURSES > UNDERGRADUATE [→ ONLINE ARCHIVE MATERIAL]

This course is designed both to introduce students to some of the major texts of the Western tradition and to help students develop their critical thinking skills, including the ability to understand, assess and formulate logical arguments .  To pursue these goals we will read, discuss and write about a number of works loosely organized around the themes of morality and the relationship of the individual and society. Continue reading

The Great Books Capital of America: The Role of Chicago in the Great Books Movement

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

Although the partisans of the great books have always emphasized the universal and timeless aspects of the great books, the emergence of “great books” as a widely recognizable concept is an American cultural phenomenon centered on the particular time and place of mid-20th-century Chicago.  Despite roots in New York and beyond as well as branches around the country and now around the world, the great books movement achieved critical mass in Chicago with which it has been and continues to be identified. Continue reading