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Why Read the Great Books?

A distinctive feature of classical Christian education is the presence of time-tested content. Classical educators immerse students in content that is timeless, that helps them develop virtuous character and wisdom. What we teach at a classical Christian school is central to delivering our mission. One important way that we provide our students with time-tested content is by familiarizing them with some of the great books of Western and American civilization.

As Mortimer Adler writes, great books are considered great because they are inexhaustible. They are the kind of books that can be read and reread, time and again, up and down the centuries and throughout the course of a lifetime. They are rich and meaningful because they wrestle with the fundamental questions that have confronted human beings in all times and places. They deal with the perennial questions of humanity, giving us further insight into what it means to be human and how to be human well. In doing so, they transcend the time and place of their origin, speaking to men and women in different times and places. They are good because they show us our humanity and help us to live better lives, and they are true because they pass down the wisdom of our forefathers. They are beautiful because they are enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing, and well-written. The great books are also gateways to the great conversation, the ongoing process of writers and thinkers responding to the works of their predecessors.

Ultimately, the presence of great books is one of the things that makes classical Christian education unique. At the age when young people are beginning to consider what they believe, classical Christian teachers have a wonderful opportunity. That is, we can partner with parents in the intellectual formation of their children by nourishing the mind and soul on what Matthew Arnold famously coined “the best that has been thought and said.” The great books introduce students to the excitement of wrestling with the perennial questions of humanity, and they help students to live good lives in a free society.

By Darrell Falconburg

Western Heritage and Logic Teacher

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