Introduction: Classic Education: The Essential Value
What is the value of a classic education?
That’s what I am determined to find out. As most of you know by now, I am embarking on a non-degree liberal arts education. I committed to pursuing my classic education between September 2013 and September 2014, but I actually started the third week in August because I was so excited. I am capitalizing on the many courses that are being offered online for free. Since then, I decided to slow things down and take more time to complete my liberal arts education.
There is no rush to sprint to the finish line, when a marathon will do nicely.
UPDATE: First Published in September 2013
I completed the Great Big Ideas series of lectures offered by the Floating University, and I was ecstatic when I discovered that one of the lectures was on the essential value of a classic education. The lecturer, Jeffrey Brenzel, Philosopher, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University, clearly articulated many of the things that I believe and have been thinking about for a long time, and it was very reaffirming for me.
Brenzel reads 50 about books each year, which translates to roughly a book a week. It’s not the quantity of the books you read that is important, but the quality, and he implores us to read the right books. Brenzel says:
“My argument will be that reading the right old books in the right way is better than reading only new books… I’m not claiming that you should read only old books or that old books are better because they’re old or that you should never read any new books or that new books are worthless. Only that you should read and learn how to read some old books.”
5 Criteria for Identifying a Classic Book
- Addresses permanent concerns about the human condition.
- Has game-changing ideas that have created profound shifts in the perspective of the readers.
- Stimulated, informed or influenced many other important works.
- Respected by expert critics. Many generations of the best readers and the most expert critics have rated the work highly.
- Challenging yet rewarding to read. I have said many times on The Invisible Mentor blog that the most successful people read books that make them think.
5 Values of Reading the Great Classics
The value of the forgotten ideas: Forgotten ideas are not necessarily outdated. In 1798, Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population, which was a major influence on Charles Darwin and the development of the theory of evolution.
The value of connecting ideas: Connect the ideas of one great thinker to another. Aristotle wrote Nicomachean Ethics, which is a book about happiness – ethics and happiness are not two ideas that are usually connected. Mine old ideas for new insights and to discover how far thought has progressed.
The value of strangeness: The great classics engage you with the great minds, who often have very different perspectives from yours. Emily Dickinson’s work highlights the workings of her mind and emotions. And “Jane Austen wrote about manners and the ways of life and the marriage and family arrangements of English country gentry of the late 1700s…. Encountering Jane Austen is valuable because she knows this world and these people inside and out and she is an exceptional, clever and a devastating observer of the human heart.
You come to know both the world that these people occupied and the ways in which they occupied this world in a way that no other author is ever going to reveal.” Great literature forces us to question the familiar and gives us new perspectives.
The value of building intellectual capacity: Because a book is written by a genius doesn’t mean that you have to be a genius to read and understand it. But reading their works will give your mind an intellectual workout.
The value of forming better judgment: When you read the classics you are in a position to rate other works. Great books give you a scale that you can use to judge other books. “Master the skills that it takes to get up on their shoulders and you’re going to see quite a distance.”
Classic Education – Some Books to Read
- Five Dialogues and, Plato: Republic, Plato
- Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
- Sophocles, The Oedipus Cycle: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Sophocles
- The City of God, St. Augustine
- Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
- The Inferno
- King Lear , William Shakespeare
- Paradise Lost
- War and Peace , Leo Tolstoy
- Summa Theologica (Complete & Unabridged), Saint Thomas Aquinas
- Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther
- Moby-Dick (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions), Herman Melville
- The Analects of Confucius
Final Thoughts: Classic Education: The Essential Value
Since I first write this post in September 2013, I have been thinking a lot about profit reading. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Liked this post? Share it and subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!
Author Bio: Avil Beckford, an expert interviewer, entrepreneur and published author is passionate about books and professional development, and that’s why she founded The Invisible Mentor and the Strategic Reading Challenge to help you to learn, stretch, and grow.
Book links are affiliate links.