For more details, see the “Circles” section.
In May of 2022, I will open my Virtual Academy to continue to offer the guidance I have provided for over 20 years as a university professor of languages and literature, but now to participants from all over the world who want to continue the journey of lifelong learning.
The focus of the academy will be on weekly reading and discussion circles exclusively in the target languages. These circles provide the support you need to become an independent reader of literature in a foreign language. The regular meetings ensure that you form the habit of reading consistently, and in them you will gain cultural knowledge, conversational ability, and enriched vocabulary. Whether you have just finished teaching yourself a language or whether you studied it in the past and have now grown rusty, these circles can help you make the transition from intermediate to advanced.
The overall purpose of the academy is to take advantage of advances in technology that now permit people from all over the world to congregate together virtually. This ability represents a development that can and should revolutionize education, which has become too enshrined in degree programs for those primarily in their first decades of life, with institutions offering little in the way of continuing lifelong learning opportunities despite the fact that this is held out as an ideal.
The academy aims to remedy this by offering opportunities for adults to develop the ability to read literature in foreign languages at any stage of life, as well as support for learning languages in the first place, and for reading and discussing the Great Books of various civilizations in the kind of ongoing seminar environment in which they can be increasingly appreciated. This learning environment is designed to be suitable both for those who want to develop abilities in a single language or area, as well as to provide a foundation for those who might wish to develop more wide-ranging skills and understanding.
After a well-needed sabbatical during which I have planned for, publicized, and prepared to open my own academy at long last, I am overjoyed at the tremendous outpouring of interest in the offerings I have proposed, and I am very excited to begin offering them as of May.
I have noted all the requests for additional offerings that people indicated when they filled out the Expression of Interest form and am cogitating how to expand the offerings to include as many of these at the earliest possible date.
Please see the “Schedule” section for the way that this will be done in May and June.
The purpose of the academy is to foster and assist auto-didactic lifelong learning. Therefore, instead of classes or courses, the offerings are referred to as circles, which will be kept small so as to provide for an intimate learning environment. There are two kinds of circles:
These are for developing the ability to read literature with ease, enjoyment, and understanding in foreign languages [initially French, German, Spanish, and Latin]. In these circles, whether for short stories, novels, or non-fiction, participants will prepare readings ahead of time, then, during the session, go around the circle in turn, reading aloud, summarizing what they have understood, and discussing the material in the target language.
Circles will be grouped into levels 1 through 4 based on language proficiency, and are drawn from your responses to the sample text reading provided in the application form (See “Application For May 2022” section). Level 1 is for those just starting to read literature, while level 4 is for those with considerable experience, and levels 2 and 3 indicate progression from 1 to 4.
These are for discussing the content of Great Books read in English, and for the support group consultations for self-study of languages. These are more traditional seminar format than the smaller circles, with focus on content rather than language, and it being incumbent upon participants to actively engage in the discussion rather than going around in a circle.
For Western Civilization, we will use the 54-volume, 1952 edition of the University of Chicago / Encyclopedia Britannica Great Books of the Western World, which is freely available in digital format online.
As I noted in my video about these texts, while one can pick and choose among these texts according to the interest of the moment, there are three logical ways of going through them all:
Of the volumes in this series:
As the historical works provide context for the others, my proposal is that we begin with that group before moving on to the others. Thus, in May and June we will begin with Volume 6, Herodotus.
For Eastern Civilization, we will use the 50-volume collection of Sacred Books of the East, also freely available in digital format from many sites online.
As these books were published as they became available over a 50-year period, there is no logic to the order in which they appear. Therefore, the only systematic way to go through them is by sorting them into traditions covered, of which:
In May and June, we will begin with Volume 6, the Qur’an, and after that we will work our way through the other groups.
Note: All times are in U.S. Central / Chicago time
During May and June, I will begin by offering one-month sessions of short stories in all four languages. These two months will be a test-period in several fashions. For participants, a short-term commitment will enable them to see if these circles are right for them. As for me, while I have been leading a discussion circles like this in German literature for going on 18 months now, these have been with those from one demographic, and the majority of those now joining may have different desires, needs, and expectations. During these two months, I hope to be able to gauge these and adjust the offerings and their structure accordingly if need be. Further, given the number of people who have expressed interest thus far, I hope to be able to divide them into groups by level and goal as I get to know you better.
Given the outpouring of interest for Eastern texts, I will offer these as well as Western texts from the outset. Just as for the foreign language literature circles, the Great Books reading and discussion groups will be for one-month at a time in May and June to give people a chance to determine if this is right for them, and thereafter these circles will be offered for 3-months at a time to form cohesive cohorts who have the time to go through longer texts together. Reading through all of these texts is an intellectual project that can easily take a full decade or more, and it is my hope to form core groups that will stick together for periods of years to work together towards meaningful understanding of these important texts.
All those planning on enrolling in a Great Books circle, Western or Eastern, should get and read Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book during the month of April. In our first session, we will discuss it and how to apply it to the texts we will then begin to read and discuss together.
For Great Books of the Western World, we will begin with Volume 6, Herodotus, in May and June.
For Sacred Books of the East, we will begin with Volume 6, the Qur’an, in May and June.
[See section on “Circles” for more details]
Once numbers of people have had an opportunity to determine whether this format suits them, and once I have been able to make any necessary adjustments to the offerings and been able to sort people into logical groupings, I will begin offering novels and non-fiction circles for all four languages with a three-month commitment. Obviously, it takes longer to read longer works, and circles can work best if there is cohesion among the participants. Time and space permitting, I will still offer one-month (short story / introductory) circles, but my ideal is to have four 12-week quarters per year (January-March, April-June, July-September, and October-December).
Those who recall my old website may also recall the extensive description I had there for an ideal systematic training in polyliteracy and the ideal of developing it into an academic discipline. This virtual academy represents the initial steps in that direction.
First and foremost, the above offerings should provide the stability to eventually offer more and more specialized instruction. Furthermore, the offerings themselves combined can form the core of a master’s of arts program. For instance, someone who takes two full years literature courses in two languages, two full years of two Great Books seminars, and two full years of guided self-instruction in an exotic language should have completed the equivalent of enough credit hours for the award of a degree pending completion also of a master’s thesis.
Anyone interested in this should indicate his intentions from the outset so that hours and progress may be carefully tracked, and should also understand that this is still an ideal with accreditation and affiliation with an awarding body still pending.