Monday, January 10, 2005

On the relevance of the classics

At Chicago's Wilbur Wright College, where the majority of students are immigrants, nonwhite, or both, Professor Bruce Gans runs a successful Great Books Curriculum, with an enrollment of about 900. Students in this program, compared with their schoolmates, greatly improve their writing skills, have far higher graduation rates, and are better prepared to transfer to four-year colleges. Meanwhile, Earl Shorris has developed the Clemente Course, a classical curriculum aimed specifically at people living in poverty. His first syllabus ranged from Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and Thucydides' Peloponnesian War to William Blake and D. H. Lawrence. And yes, Plato is intensely relevant to former drug addicts. "Those of us in the grip of addiction use this process to rethink our lives," one student explains. "Socrates makes clear that you have to have the courage to examine yourself and to stand up for something. A lot of us have justified our weaknesses for too long a time."
From an essay by Jonathan Rose, "The Classics in the Slums."

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