Teaching the Great Books: Course Introduction

Josh Gibbs introduces his course on teaching the Great Books by describing his background in education and relationship to classical education, along with some thoughts on how one ought to approach Great Books in the classical rather than progressive tradition.
Recommended Reading


Outline of Session
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Discussion Questions
  • When you approach a work as a student, what are some ways to still be a teacher?
  • How can you encourage your students to listen more than speak?
  • To what extent does the method of teaching and learning proposed require humility?
Education via Humility

Depiction of Socrates by a 13th century Seljuk illustrator

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In Plato’s Apology, after the Oracle of Delphi declares that Socrates is the wisest man, Socrates decides to test this conclusion. He compares himself to others who are supposed to be wise, saying, “Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful or good, I am better off than he is–for he knows nothing, and thinks he knows; I neither know nor think I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him.” What Socrates is saying here is that those who are wisest are the ones who know just how little they actually know. This is why the Socratic method is so valuable. If we must recognize our own ignorance in order to be wise, asking questions seems the best way to educate. When a teacher asks questions of a text instead of pontificating about it as a master, the teacher shows the students how to be wise. Josh Gibbs says that a teacher must approach a book with the mind-set of a student, not a master, and Socrates’s method of questioning seems to be just that.


Lycurgus Consulting the Pythia by Eugène Delacroix

Assignments and Action Steps
Is there a Great Book that you just cannot seem to love? Is there one that you are tempted to dismiss or ridicule from the start? Try to read it again with the mind-set of a humble student. Listen and ask questions with the hope of learning instead of approaching it as a master who has the right to criticize. Keep a “pedagogical diary” and record how this impacts your reading and gleaning from the text. Then, share the results with your colleagues, academic team, or another homeschooling parent. Consider having your academic team do this together and then share the results and discuss at a team meeting. If you are a homeschool parent, consider sharing with your spouse or a homeschooling friend with similar philosophy of education.


  1. Pat Weist

    Hello! I am a former NC public school teacher of 21.5 years. I have taught Middle School and High School in Special Education, In-school suspension, and Math. Presently, I am in my 2nd year of teaching math again at a Christian School. Thank you, Lord, for opening a door. I am working on CEU credit to keep my NC Teaching Certification current.
    Thank you for your transparency and excellent lecture style. I truly enjoy it!!!

  2. Shiloh Upson

    As a teacher, I think it is important to still be the guide. The teacher should have tools available to be a learner. Our students often rely upon us to help put those learning tools in our tool belt. However, the teacher should be the leader of learning together. Reading a book is an experience; the teacher should head up that experience, while remaining humble to what the piece of literature has to offer to us all.

    Although it sounds small, multiple times a day, I share James 1:19 with my students. One of my large objectives is to demonstrate to them the wonderful things that happen when we are quick to listen but slow to speak. As a teacher, however, it is my job to motivate my students to give me their attention.

    Humility is a requirement because we are sinners teaching in a fallen world. Our understanding of everything is limited, and our ideas are subject to change and improvement. Closed-minded teachers who believe they know all are doomed to fail their students.

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