Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Harvard Classics and Your Family Cannon

There was a nice article in the Wall Street Journal, print edition, on Saturday, Dec. 27, 2015:  A Year of 15-Minute Daily Doses From the Harvard Classics by Paula Marantz Cohen.  You can read it by Googling it.  Ms Cohen quotes Charles W. Eliot saying this about the Harvard Classics, often called the five-foot shelf:   "...a five foot shelf would hold books enough to give a liberal education to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading."  Paula Cohen takes up Dr. Eliot's challenge and describes the results in this nicely written article.

The Great Books movement was started at Columbia University in 1920, promoted by John Erskine of the English department.  One of the instructors in the course was Mortimer Adler, who moved to the University of Chicago.  Together with the University president, Robert M. Hutchins, the Great Books movement took root there and led to the Great Books series published by the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The idea behind the Great Books is that educated Westerners should be familiar with the foundational books of Western civilization.  The program has been a positive experience for many.  The writer David Denby wrote Great Books, My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World, in which he chronicles his experience of re-taking the Great Books course at Columbia after 30 years.  A nice feature of his book is the list of works studying in that course so that you can decide if any of those works appeal to you.

As parents we can pick more than a cannon of Great Books for our family, but also a family cannon of music, and theater, and movies.  We can be purposeful about the books, music, plays, and movies our children see or hear.  Your family cannon can ground the moral compass and enrich the soul.


No comments: