1. Briefly, what is the origin of your program?
Unsatisfied with the homeschooling curricula available in the 1990’s – we researched the various educational methods and approaches, as well as educational goals. Again and again we were drawn back to the Great Books Movement – the return to the classics – as the core element needing restoration and recommended by the leading lights for educational reform, including Mortimer Adler, former Editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Great Books of Western Civilization (as well as author of 50+ other books). After meeting with Dr. Adler for three days in 1999 and again in 2000, we concluded his educational approach was the most insightful and profound, and, with his encouragement, introduced the Great Books movement online, to homeschoolers and others. We accepted our first students in 2000 A.D. In order to prepare students to read the Great Books, we introduced Dr. John Senior’s children’s classics Good Books list into the elementary levels. Literature is the backbone and main integrating factor in education and in our program.
2. Please explain your program
Certainly. We have assembled what we believe is the finest educational curriculum available. Our high school and college-level literature program – the Great Books Program– introduces students to approximately 120 of the greatest works of genius ever produced, in various fields. The list may be viewed elsewhere, but includes Homer, Plato, Virgil, Genesis, Augustine, Bede, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Flannery O’Connor, etc. There cannot be a better core to any curriculum, at least with respect to the materials used, by the common opinion of the ages.
Such great works can more easily be understood with some preparation. Hence we developed our Good Books Program of literature classics for younger, elementary school readers. Likewise, our language arts, history, art, writing, vocabulary and other courses are all aimed and arranged to prepare students for the best – the great books. As the reader may see, the entire program, from pre-school to the end, is organized for excellence – to lead students to the very best – in art, science, literature, history, etc. – in graduated steps in all areas. Nearly 20 years of experience (following 80 years of the Great Books movement) have confirmed this approach.
3. Is there a place I may visit online for more extensive information on the Great and Good Books, and your educational approach?
Yes, there are a number of articles on this website. In addition, there is extensive literature and numerous articles on the Great Books movement online, including at which is the website for the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas, co-founded by our first Chairman, recently deceased, the scholar Max Weismann, and Mortimer Adler.
4. How do we start?
Our curriculum is all listed under the tab “Curriculum,” so simply visit any grade level, or subject area (such as Math, Art, History), and select the levels and materials you wish to use. To enroll or order individual books for non-enrolled students, please visit our Academy bookstore, which only carries books we recommend for our curriculum.
5. How do I know which level to use?
If you are unsure, simply use our placement tests online. We also allow parents to move their students up a grade (or more) or back, in any subject, whenever they think that advisable. That is a parental decision we respect. We dislike bureaucracies, and try hard not to become one, to the contrary. Whenever possible, our answer to parental questions such as: “Can we do such and such in educating our child?” is “Yes, it’s your decision as the parent.”
6. How many subjects should we do at one time?
We have found that many parents want to cover additional subjects, in other areas. We offer 12 subjects – too many to do at one time. So, most parents begin with 3 or 4 and then add more until they are covering the areas they wish. Many teach some of the subjects 3 or 4 days a week, other subjects, only one day a week. Some focus on one subject at a time – like the unit studies approach. Whatever suits your time and circumstances is best for you. We trust the judgment of parents, and in validation of that view: homeschoolers regularly outperform schooled (public or private) students.
7. What are the most important subjects?
That is a matter of opinion of course, but we believe literature, English language arts (such as phonics, grammar, writing), math, art (and/or music), history, and by 7th grade – science, are all very important subjects.
Geography, philosophy for children, foreign languages, and dialectics (aka Socratic discussions) are also important. None should be entirely neglected. That is why some parents rotate weeks, or do some subjects only one day a week, or some over the summer, etc. There are all kinds of options for home education, which avoids the one-size-fits-all blunder of mass education.
8. Are the Good Books in your elementary reading program part of home “class” time?
Only until the students can read for themselves. Before then, they are often read to the children before bedtime. But once they can read, they typically read in the evening by themselves. No doubt this varies a great deal as well. Our Good Books literature program begins at the nursery level, though 8th grade (15 levels in all). It is followed by our Great Books Program, beginning in 9th grade and up.
9. What is the Socratic Discussion or Dialectics you mentioned above?
Some teaching is done by lectures (didactically), other by conversation or discussion (dialectically). Dialectics refers to the latter – discussion or conversation. “Socratic” refers to the ancient Greek philosopher – Socrates – who loved to use conversations and mutual inquiry as his primary method to teach and learn, just as most of us do most of the time when we are learning something new.
As we all know, giving or attending a lecture is a very different thing from participating in a conversation. The skills involved are different. Dialectics used to be taught in American schools, but the only remnants left now are found in the occasional debate class, or rarer still – a logic class. The Academy has resurrected Dialectics and Socratic Logic, for homeschooling – per the advice of Dr. Adler and others – as a weekly online discussion classes available for 3rd to 8th grade, and in the Great Books Program. Students from around the world discuss the books and important ideas in the books they read, together, in an often exhilarating experience of mutual inquiry and friendly conversation, moderated by our online faculty. There is much more about this on our website at the Great Books Program.
10. What is the difference between the online Socratic Discussion and the online Great Books Program discussions?
Grade Levels. Socratic Discussions are offered 3rd-8th grade online classes (which meet every week online, for 40 minutes to 1 hour depending on the grade level); Great Books discussions are the high school and college level online discussions (which meet weekly for two hours, September through May). The readings for the Socratic Discussions are short (1-3 pages), pithy texts from the classics; the readings for the Great Books discussions are the Great Books themselves or very substantial excerpts.
Our live, Socratic Discussion classes occasionally use short excerpts from our Good Books and Great Books lists, but also many other short readings. It is not a whole book discussion class, as the Great Books classes are. The object is to teach the liberal art of dialectics (speaking and listening, about a text, logically, not reading per se, though of course these is a little reading involved.
11. You mention science as important from 7th grade one. What about before that?
The natural sciences are learned analytically in the traditional sequence of biology, chemistry, physics – usually sometime in 9th-12th grades. Texts are available to prepare for those years – in a simplified format for 6th-8th grades – entitled Life, Earth and Physical science (or similar names). These are important subjects. However, these texts all assume a certain level of experience of the natural world. Students who do not actually know what a butterfly does, who have not seen turtles in water, blown seed stars off of dandelions, made mud pies nor followed rabbits to their holes, simply cannot do as well as students that have. Texts have been created for 1st-6th grade science – and we carry the very best for parents who want them – but on examination, parents will discover their contents are largely attempts to replicate the experiences mentioned above, using photos and dry explanations, and which are enjoyed by all children with enough time to play in nature.
12. When should foreign languages be taught?
The earlier the better – and the easier. Studies show that learning a foreign language is more difficult after puberty. But better late than never. We offer the classical languages – ancient Greek and Latin – and encourage the study of those inflected, root languages, but any foreign language is far better than none. A good understanding of English is nearly always one happy result of learning a foreign language and its grammar and syntax.
13. Does the Academy have enrollment services?
To build a stronger foundation for your child’s education, the Great Books Academy offers enrollment at any time of the year. We grade and record all quarterly tests and book report forms for enrolled students. We test on your schedule – we have no deadlines you have to meet. You may send the tests to us at any time of the year. Tests are included in our Lesson Plans, and may be taken when students reach them in their studies. Sending them in for grading is optional and free for enrolled students.
Parents have repeatedly told us that our Grading Services have been invaluable for the insightful comments, praise for work well done, suggestions for improvement where needed, and the consistent cycle of testing quarterly. Parents often need an outside source for their children, especially as the children get into their teen years, to help keep the school year on track. Our grading services include offering comments and suggestions on all papers and tests sent to us. We grade all of the quarterly tests for your student. We send the tests back to you. If you have any questions about our grading service, please email the registrar, Dr. Elisabeth Carmack, at: firstname.lastname@example.org – we will be happy to answer your questions.
14. Does the Great Books Academy Academy offer grading services?
Yes, see the answer to question 13.
15. Does the Great Books Academy Academy provide transcript forms?
Yes. We are also happy to incorporate earlier work or grades from other programs onto our transcripts for enrolled students. Because our students enroll at many various times during the year, we prepare and send transcripts, report cards, certificates – whatever is needed – upon request. This service is free for enrolled students.
16. Are there any deadlines at the Great Books Academy?
No. Except for the optional, live online classes, which obviously have to have regularly scheduled class times to meet, there are no deadlines nor time limits in this program. Again, this is home education for home schoolers – not a school per se. To impose deadlines is both unnecessary and arbitrary. Some students complete a whole year’s work in a class in a month – others take two years in some. The parents are the primary educators – after the students themselves – not us.
17. May I buy materials without enrolling in the online class?
Yes. Anyone may purchase any of the materials in the Academy bookstore.
18. May I purchase courses from different levels for the same student?
Yes. You may choose as many or as few courses as you wish, from whatever grade levels you wish, for any student. You may also mix grade levels (e.g., 5th grade math; 4th grade English; 6th grade history). We encourage parents to individualize the courses and paces selected for their students. So at enrollment pick a main grade for lesson plans, then let us know if you wish to depart from that “main grade” level for individual subjects , and we will send lesson plans for those subjects, without charge, as long as the student is enrolled.
19. Do we have to use Great Books Academy materials exclusively for our homeschooling?
No. Again, parents are the primary educators. We are here to aid them. While we believe our materials are the finest available we understand that in some circumstances parents may wish to continue using some materials they already have or prefer for some other reason. Of course we cannot grade tests for other curricula as we do not have their materials and answer keys. We are happy to add those courses to your Great Books Academy transcript – just send us the relevant information at your leisure.
20. Do I have to buy the entire literature package for each grade?
No. You may buy each of the books, from any grade level(s), individually. Again, the parents make such decisions – we merely suggest or recommend.
21. The literature list seems advanced for the age groups listed. Why is this?
The listings are a rough guide for parents. Certainly, in the youngest grades, the parents will be doing some, or most, of the reading. This is not only acceptable but also beneficial for the students, even for some older students, as they learn how the language should sound and also helps the student learn to listen well. It is a good thing for students