Shimer College has a great books curriculum comprised of primary source readings
During a student’s educational endeavors at Shimer College, they will read dozens of great books. These great books offer the very foundations on which the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities were built. These books are not textbooks, but all primary sources written by great minds such as Plato and Shakespeare. Reading these great and often intricate works requires an attentive eye and a questioning mind.
If you’re enrolled in a college with a great books curriculum, asking yourself a few important questions during your readings can help you engage with these texts on a deeper level. While there are many different questions and approaches, here are three helpful places to start.
1. Small Liberal Arts College Students Ask: What Do I Know About This Subject?
Diving into a new book is exciting. Cracking the spine for the first time, turning to the first page, and beginning to read should all be done with intentional purpose. As a student at an alternative liberal arts college your curiosity and thirst for new knowledge will serve you well throughout your studies. Curiosity is natural, but it is also important to pause before you start to read a new text and ask yourself “What do I know about this subject?” Before reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, you can ask yourself what you currently know about gender. Or, before reading the works of Karl Marx, you could reflect on what you know about communism. This question allows you to set the stage with your pre-existing knowledge, establishing context for the reading.
2. Students In Liberal Arts College Courses Ask: What Are My Beliefs About This Subject?
A great follow-up question to ask once you’ve established your knowledge of a topic is “What are my beliefs about this subject?” Readings will often present new points of view, values, and opinions so it is important you account for your initial thoughts on a subject before reading something that may alter your opinion. For example, during the class Humanities 1: Art and Music you will read Tolstoy’s What Is Art? Before you start reading, you should ask yourself what you believe art to be, what its meaning is, and where you think its purpose lies.
By reflecting on these questions before you begin reading, you can identify any biases or preconceived notions you may have about the subject. Often, it can be easy to dismiss opinions that aren’t our own. At Shimer, however, students are encouraged to truly engage with other viewpoints, whether they come from other students or from great books themselves.
By reflecting on their readings students are well equipped to participate in class discussions
3. Students In Liberal Arts College Courses Ask: What Are My Beliefs Now?
From Darwin’s Origin of Species to Aristotle’s Physics, many great books have had a profound impact on the beliefs of their readers. That’s why one of the greatest questions for reflection after completing a book is “What are my beliefs now?” This question lets you gauge your understanding of the work, how it influenced you, and how you are changed by reading it.
At a small liberal arts college like Shimer you will read plenty of great books that might alter your opinion. They will all bring a unique bias from the author, so it is important to account for an author’s standpoint when considering how a book has influenced your own point of view. Has your opinion changed? Do you have a fresh new outlook on the subject? Did it enhance your earlier beliefs? By delving into new subjects and new ideas, each student at Shimer is left transformed by the great books they engage with.
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