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A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had

by Susan Wise Bauer

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-393-08096-4
Publisher: Norton

Humanities home schooling for adults.

Bauer (The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople, 2013, etc.) is a critic of educational institutions: high schools teach students to read to the 10th-grade level, enough to master Stephen King, newspapers, and Time; college graduates often feel “a nagging sense of their own deficiencies.” In graduate school, the author once earned an A for a presentation on Moby-Dick, a novel she hadn’t even finished. What should you do, she asks, “if your mind is hungry, but you feel unprepared, under-educated, intimidated by all those books you know you should have read?” Her prescription: read intensely for half an hour, four days a week, and analyze according to the trivium: “First, you’ll try to understand the book’s basic structure and argument; next, you’ll evaluate the book’s assertions; finally, you’ll form an opinion about the book’s ideas.” Bauer offers an overview and specific questions for major literary genres: the novel, autobiography and memoir, history, drama, poetry, and science, along with a chronological list of books she deems important, each with her brief commentary. Although the author claims that no list of “Great Books” is canonical, her own echoes works endorsed by Mortimer Adler, innovator of the Great Books curriculum at the University of Chicago; and Harold Bloom, champion of the Western canon. The third part of Bauer’s trivium is likely to cause the most difficulty: how are readers to know if their opinions are “correct”? She recommends getting a reading partner to discuss ideas, “skimming an essay or two of criticism,” or seeking an appointment with a faculty member at a nearby college, a possibility that seems both unrealistic and frustrating for both parties. Despite her disdain for schools, her book would be most useful in a classroom setting, where discussions, essay writing, and a teacher’s expert guidance could foster the critical thinking that Bauer so passionately exalts.

A useful resource for highly self-motivated readers.