So I ran across this book The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. This is the sort of book about which I'm normally exceptionally sceptical, but the modest and edifying goals that the author suggests won me over. Within the first few pages I was ready to take on the project.
What this entails is reading a list of some 100 or so "classics" in a prescribed order and taking detailed notes on the works and writing original summations of my thoughts. A perfect weblog project.
I'm not a fan of the "Great Books" regime, peddled by the one time door to door salesman Mortimer Adler to an unsuspecting Post War America -- and moved into prominence by the Straussian cabal that has seized not only our country's foriegn policy agenda but also our humanities programs (well at least the one's that aren't subjugated by postmodernists and the just plain exhausted and mediocre). The idea that ideas are timeless and that there is an ongoing conversation between the minds of the truly enlightened strikes me as hokum. And these lists are always a nightmare of exclusion and axes to grind. What seems important is that you can read the books and have the skills to form an opinion and that you challenge yourself to read deeper and deeper.
But Susan Wise Bauer got under my skin with her celebration of the "classical education" of the 17th & 18th centuries -- its focus on the trivium and chronology, its use of commonplace books and the importance of the tutor. It reminded me of the admiration I have for the pre-industrial models education and some how got me past the politics of the canon. And her modest description of her own tour through grad school as the curious seeker while still the mother of many made me even drop my creeped out attitude toward most religious home schoolers. Instead of sounding like the scary ministers wife, homeschooled herself and now homeschooling as well, she comes off as a great study partner, selling you on all the reasons you love learning and passing on 200 year old advice on how to read and remember.
On a lark, I mentioned the book to my wife who has been tearing through books lately. One evening after I got home from work, Anne says "I read that 'homeschooling for adults' book today during Sophie's nap; sounds fun. Let's do it".
So we are plotting a course. Its like planning a 2 year trip around the world, starting with a drive across Canada (Don Quixote, actually). I put together our online commonplace book and reading lists to keep track of our notes. Don't expect any sudden flurries of posts -- Cervantes' tome is one I've picked up and put down a half dozen times -- not the first novel I'd choose. But I'm sold on the project, which suggests a structured order for reading the genres (Novels first, then Autobiography, then History, Drama, and Poetry last) and all read in chronological order to learn about the development of the genre itself. I think I'd have preferred the truly classical education promoted by the humanists, well before the novel was invented -- but I'm trying to improve myself. Slowly, one book at a time. Starting with Novels.