[i.e., high] schools and that the Bachelor of Arts degree would then be awarded at the termination of such schooling, I would gladly recommend that the college be relieved of any further responsibility for training in the liberal arts… if we are going to have general human schooling in this country, it has to be accomplished in the first twelve years of compulsory schooling…it would be appropriate to award a bachelor of arts degree at the completion of such basic schooling. Doing so would return that degree to its original educational significance as certifying competence in the liberal arts, which are the arts or skills of learning in all fields of subject matter.” – Jacques MaritainJacques Maritain
Philosopher Jacques Maritain held virtually the identical view as Dr. Adler on this matter: “I advance the opinion, incidentally, that, in the general educational scheme, it would be advantageous to hurry the four years of college, so that the period of undergraduate studies would extend from sixteen to nineteen. The BA would be awarded at the end of the college years [at 19 years of age], as crowning the humanities…” (Education at the Crossroads)
For example, in colonial America, before entering school at the age of fourteen or fifteen, students were expected to be able to speak Latin, and in college they were fined for not speaking in Latin, except during recreation. Latin was the language of most of their textbooks and lectures. The New Testament Greek was required for admission, and in Greek they also studied Homer and Longinus. In Latin the chief authors were Cicero, Vergil, and Horace. A continued interest in the classics was usual. “Every accomplished gentleman,” says Wertenbaker, “was supposed to know his Homer and his Ovid, and in conversation was put to shame if he failed to recognize a quotation from either.” Self-made men, like Benjamin Franklin, without the benefit of college, derived more from the ancient world than one would expect, but the more typical Founding Fathers meditated long and deeply on the ancient patterns of democracy and republics, and Jefferson was only expressing a frequent view of his time when he said of ancient literature: “The Greeks and Romans have left us the present models which exist of fine composition whether we examine them as works of reason, or style, or fancy… To read the Latin and Greek authors in the original is a sublime luxury.” The history, philosophy, and literature of the ancients did not seem remote or antiquated, but intimately present because permanently enlightening. -Image of America, Prof. Norman Foerster (University of Notre Dame Press, 1957)
In a 1970 appearance on the TV show Firing Line, hosted by William F. Buckley, Jr, Dr. Adler made the same point that liberal education, the backbone of which is study of the Great Books (not student-selected electives), should be completed by the end of secondary (high) school:
“I think the curriculum for liberal studies should be completely fixed. There should be no electives at all. I do not think the student is in any position to make choices about what he should study. I do not think his interests make any difference. They are all human beings; they are all going to become citizens; they are all going to have lots of free time. I think electives – the choice of specialization – should come after the liberal arts degree. I think the liberal arts degree is given four years too late. I would take American schooling and cut it down , and make it European in this sense: six years of elementary schooling; six years of secondary (lycee, gymnasium – high school); the collegiate (i.e., the BA [Bachelor of Arts]) degree coming at the end of that [i.e., at the conclusion of secondary education – 12th grade in the US]…I might extend that by taking [into account] the differences in the population: I might have the very brightest twelve years [i.e., through 12th grade] ; for the next level thirteen years; and the last, fourteen years, but not more than fourteen.”
Twenty years later, in 1990 Adler reaffirmed his view that the Great Books – the “ backbone of liberal education” as Adler called them – should be studied in the high school years, before age eighteen: “As far as the United States is concerned, the reorganization of the educational system would make it possible for the system to make its contribution to the liberal education of the young by the time they reached the age of eighteen…The tremendous waste of time in the American educational system must result in part from the fact that there is so much time to waste.” (The Great Conversation by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler; 2nd Ed., 1990, p.55; Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago)
Adler wrote in his autobiography, although younger than the College students, “the high school students did just as well [in the University of Chicago Great Books Program]; in fact, having had less schooling, they were less inhibited in discussion.” I’d say that it was not that we’d had less schooling but that we’d had U-High (high school at the U. of Chicago-run University high school – in other words they were prepared) schooling, which encouraged independent questioning and expression. -George McElroy, (BA’38, MA’39, graduated from U-High in 1934)
Ten years later, taking Dr. Adler’s words and personal encouragement to heart, in 2000 AD we developed The Great Books Program for students high school and college age and up. Much like the AP science courses for which high school students can earn college credits for completing courses of college level content and rigor, The Great Books Program allows willing students to gain a broad, liberal (i.e. from liber or libertas – liberty, or freeing from ignorance) education in the humanities through the study of the great books while in high school or college, via distance education, for college credit.
“Reading the Great Books had done more for my mind than all the rest of the academic pursuits…it is the best education for the faculty as well as for the students; the use of original texts is an antidote for survey courses and fifth-rate textbooks; and it constitutes by itself, if properly conducted, the backbone of a liberal education.” – Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Studies by another Nobel-Prize winning (2000) economist at the University of Chicago, James Heckman, support the notion that healthy learning environments (which home education is generally acknowledged to provide most homeschoolers) found that “enriched environments” of learning enhanced IQ: “But that’s because when a kid is in a program, he’s being enriched and being enhanced… there is a [IQ] fade out that occurs when people get out of these enriched environments… We’re so used to thinking of IQ as being genetically given, used to thinking of these traits as somehow embedded at birth, but they’re not. The whole literature in genetics is now talking about gene-environment interactions: epigenetics.” Public schools and many private ones too often provide impoverished learning environments with poor materials, as if the learning environment did not matter – Heckman’s studies show it does.
Heckman wrote: “When you raise Rhesus monkeys — they share about 95 percent of humans’ genes — with a form of disadvantage, you affect 23 percent of all their genes. The genes are there, but the genes themselves don’t do anything. So you can have two identical monkeys, one raised in adverse conditions, another one raised in good conditions, and 23 percent of their genes will be different. The fact of the matter is, environment matters.
College Student reading book outsideWe do know roughly that the early years are very important and the later we wait, the harder it is [to enhance IQ]. We know there are a lot of differences genetically; there are a lot of differences that emerge. I’ll give you an example of gene-environment interaction. James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein wrote a book called “Crime and Human Nature” about the determinants of crime. They said there is a genetic predisposition for crime, and there is! Have you heard about the MAOA gene?
If you go to the State Prison of Georgia or any other prison you’re going to find an overabundance of what are called “MAOA genes.” This gene is very predictive of violence, especially early onset violence. But it turns out — and this is an amazing finding, within the last several years — if you take two individuals with the same MAOA gene, one raised in a middle class environment, one raised in an environment with a tremendous amount of violence in the background and not much family support, it is only in the latter environment that the MAOA genes show any predictive power for criminality. In the middle class environment, it’s as if it never was there. That’s a powerful gene-environment interaction. And that’s just one gene! When you’re thinking about all of the genes we have and that 23 percent of all of them could be affected by these early environments.”
Genes are very important, but the environment in which genes are expressed is often your destiny. Heckman writes: “ I think [environment] is powerful. You can shut down the operation of a gene, because certain aspects of the gene will never manifest themselves, or certain negative aspects can be reinforced by it. The gene is still the same but it can be shut down, or it can be enhanced.
We can change who we are. We can improve ourselves in various ways and we can give ourselves possibilities. What I’m thinking of is a sense of capabilities. It’s basically saying, give a child more possibilities to do whatever he or she wants to do with their life. So you give them more capacities: more capacities to solve math problems, more capacities to do music, etc.” [It Pays to Invest in Early Education Says a Nobel Economist Who Boosts Kids IQ; Making Sense – Feb. 22,2013]. We believe a program of study of the world’s greatest literature covering a wide range of human endeavor, is precisely the formula for enriching students’ learning environments and expanding their capabilities and sense of possibilities to pursue what is great in a true sense, and hence good.