As long as you live, shine!
Don’t be worried,
For life is short, and time demands fulfillment!
—Seikilos Epitaph (ca. 100 AD)
Adult learning is typically seen as an appendix and extension – an afterthought – of formal schooling from kindergarten to College. But is it not more reasonable – does it not make better sense and is it not truer to the highest sense of the meaning of education – to see formal schooling as part of a bigger lifetime picture of learning, as prelude and preparation, not merely for a career, but for an autonomous pathway of serious learning that grows over the course of a whole lifetime?
We think so. We think there is a pathway beyond the pale of formal schooling and professional academia, and we want to help you find it. We want to create a safe, welcoming space for you to take some big risks in your learning. We want you to be indulgent and curious in your reading and thinking, to explore big ideas and share meaningful questions together in conversation with a community of curious and intellectually alive adults.
Conversation. It’s one of the simplest, most natural things people can do together. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to have a conversation. Conversation is not a method. Conversations are never perfect. They can fall flat, spin wheels, lead to confusion. But there are untold depths to the practice of a good conversation that takes a lifetime to explore. “Conversation has a kind of charm about it”, Seneca once said, “an insinuating and insidious something that elicits secrets just like love or liquor.”
We are the Symposium Great Books Institute. We curate the books we think could have lasting impact on your life or even change your life, books that you simply must read at some point, books well worth tussling and wrestling with, books worth knowing, even if you disagree with them.
What are the great books? We let them speak for themselves. The books are a central springboard, touch point, and occasion for our discussions and explorations. But they are also, and even more importantly, another participant in the conversation.
It is widely believed that reading challenging, thought-provoking and inspirational books adds an immeasurable value to life. The experience can be empowering, liberating, and life-changing. Reading doesn’t stop with school, but is something we carry on into life. It is, indeed, a lifelong pursuit.
A busy adult seeking to carry on lifelong reading of the highest caliber in leisure faces significant road blocks.
First of all, who has the time? If we look at it and are honest with ourselves, we would make time, if we think it is truly worthwhile.
But some of the most challenging books, the classics, the ones which are potentially life-changing, can also seem too daunting or intimidating to take on by ourselves. We feel we cannot go it alone, that we need other people with which to talk and share the experience.
Readily available alternatives typically consist of either taking a lecture-driven college course, or joining a book club.
But there are problems with both alternatives.
Lecture courses provide all sorts of useful and helpful information, but rarely give the beginning reader an opportunity to directly encounter the text according to the reader’s own questions and her own horizons of interest. We learn all about what the lecturer thinks, but walk away not knowing what we think. At the end of the day, we may feel that something is missing, and that it might in fact be what we crave most of all: a direct encounter with the greatest minds and spirits, to somehow enter into a conversation with them.
Book clubs have the advantage of independence, as well as a friendly, informal discussion environment. The disadvantage of book clubs is that they typically shy away from challenging material and the classics, and the conversations tend to lose focus. Book clubs also tend to be closed, private groups, instead of an open, growing community. A book club of this sort can be enjoyable in its own right, but for someone looking to take on the challenges of a rich heritage, who has the need for a supportive community, it can be discouraging.
Where should the reader go? No wonder so many of us give up before even setting down the path.
That’s what we’re here for, to open the way, and provide the best of both worlds: a supportive community, offering friendly and open discussion about the “best that is thought and said.”
We aim to do one thing well: to host purposeful discussion on the most important questions, based on the very best books. The mission of Symposium Great Books Institute is to provide the highest quality lifetime liberal learning opportunities for adults of all walks of life, by supporting a community of learning dedicated to this end. Symposium offers rigorous Socratic seminars (liberal or free discussion with a serious purpose) based on primary or original texts. The quality texts we curate form the common ground and unifying principle of conversations among participants of varying backgrounds.
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WE LOVE COMMUNITY. There is no finer way to develop community than to hold purposeful round table discussions on questions and issues of importance to men and women. Genuine dialogue fosters a sense of common purpose and stimulates creative thinking and fresh perspectives.
Symposium’s approach to books and discussion is rooted in an alternative education movement which started a century ago. The movement developed as a practice of Socratic conversation based on the primary texts of Western civilization. Symposium shares the vision of liberal learning started at University of Chicago, Columbia University, St. John’s College and Thomas Aquinas College. Adult education has always been at the roots of the great books movement. Figures such as Scott Buchanan, Alexander Meiklejohn, Mortimer Adler, Robert Hutchins, Allan Bloom and Leo Strauss were each involved in significant efforts to create seminars for adults – from the People’s Institute in 1920s New York City, to the School for Social Studies in depression era San Francisco, and later at the University of Chicago. Seminars on the great books at these institutions brought together people from all walks of life and all professions.
“…Now here, my dear Glaucon, is the whole risk for a human being, as it seems. And on this account each of us must, to the neglect of other studies, above all see to it that he is a seeker and student of that study (μάθημα) by which he might be able to learn and find out who will give him the capacity and the knowledge to distinguish the good and the bad life, and so everywhere and always to choose the better from among those possible.”
Socrates, Plato’s Republic 618c
…ἔνθα δή, ὡς ἔοικεν, ὦ φίλε Γλαύκων, ὁ πᾶς κίνδυνος ἀνθρώπῳ, καὶ διὰ ταῦτα μάλιστα [618ξ] ἐπιμελητέον ὅπως ἕκαστος ἡμῶν τῶν ἄλλων μαθημάτων ἀμελήσας τούτου τοῦ μαθήματος καὶ ζητητὴς καὶ μαθητὴς ἔσται, ἐάν ποθεν οἷός τ᾽ ᾖ μαθεῖν καὶ ἐξευρεῖν τίς αὐτὸν ποιήσει δυνατὸν καὶ ἐπιστήμονα, βίον καὶ χρηστὸν καὶ πονηρὸν διαγιγνώσκοντα, τὸν βελτίω ἐκ τῶν δυνατῶν ἀεὶ πανταχοῦ αἱρεῖσθαι
A lifelong pursuit of truth and meaning
“The desire and pursuit of the whole is called love” –Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium
“The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.” -Cicero
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Symposium Great Books Institute is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing to our communities the highest quality lifetime learning opportunities for people of all walks of life.