Meeting Great Minds

I received a brochure in the mail yesterday (I will probably not go out today as it promises to be well below zero until tomorrow afternoon!). I usually don’t pay much attention to the bulk mail since it is filled with vapid messages from marketers whom I would rather ignore. But this one was from my alma mater reminding me of a classics series it offers every summer which has always fascinated me. This post may sound like a promotion for that college, but that is not my intention and the college will go unnamed.

The brochure starts out with the usual banter:

“The backgrounds of your fellow attendees span religions, cultures, interests, and ages, and each seminar, regardless of individual focus, makes room for multiple points of view. We are united, however, in a commitment to the texts we study and an unwavering belief that to understand another’s point of view is an act of generosity.”

OK, well that’s not the usual tripe. So I read on. The college is one of two sisters in Annapolis, Maryland and Santa Fe, New Mexico that has a four-year curriculum, based on reading the “Great Books.” And they offer summer seminars like those mentioned in the brochure — not for college credit, but simply for those who have a “passion for learning.”

I should point out that as one who spent four years at the college, I can attest that they mean what they say. The brochure is not simply passing along empty promises thrown up by a marketing firm. The colleges center around the seminar with two leaders, each of whose role is that of facilitator, not lecturer, and no more than eighteen participants. And they read serious material. Some of the great minds the participants will encounter in the brief weeks of the seminars are the following:

Aristotle, reminding us in his Politics how important civilization is, that we are more human as we interact with and care about others and reap the benefits of law and education. As Aristotle himself noted:

“That the city is by nature prior to each individual, then, is clear. For if the individual when separated from it is not self-sufficient, he could be in a condition similar to that of the parts in relation to the whole. One who is incapable of sharing or who is in need of nothing through being self-sufficient is no part of the city, and so is either a beast or a god.”

Then there’s John Stuart Mill from his essay On Liberty:

“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental, or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”

And so it goes. Snippets from the pens of great minds — minds that have been under attack in our colleges and universities by many who have traditionally been assigned the task of preserving the very best that has been passed on to us from our collective past. It is refreshing to know that there are small outposts in the din of daily chaos that passes for culture these days that still embrace civil discourse, the meeting of minds, and invite us to participate in the great conversation that is growing faint in the aforementioned din.



6 thoughts on “Meeting Great Minds

  1. It sounds like it would be a great experience! So, are you going? Meanwhile, stay in! It’s -4 here, and that is brutal — I can only imagine how cold it must be there. Take care, my friend!

    • It was 28 below this AM and is still bitter cold. There’s not much movement outside where we live. It should ease up by tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, I am inside staying warm.
      And, no, I will not be attending the sessions in New Mexico. I did that a few years ago and had a terrific time, but it’s too expensive to make it a regular thing. But they are doing some exciting stuff!

  2. Dr. Curtler,

    Smalll, private, liberal arts colleges are, I believe, the last bastions of a liberal education, and they are not gaining ground in their efforts.

    I spent nearly thirty years trying to make a small part of a public university as much like a private liberal arts college for first-year students as I could. There were successes, to be sure, but the overall trend is toward academic “efficiency” and away from academic efficacy.

    I fear that most students in public colleges and universities are more likely to be processed than educated. It is certainly possible for a student to receive a decent education at a public college or university. My point is that it is increasingly probable that they will not.

    That in mind, you do well to point out the importance of those few programs still dedicated to the traditional ideals of a liberal arts education.

    Thank you.

    Jerry Stark

    • I agree with wholeheartedly. You are one of the success stories when it comes to public colleges and universities. And there are others, including my two sons. But the small colleges make a serious attempt, for the most part, to educate rather than to train young people.

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