How to Become Educated by Mortimer Adler, July 1979.
I caught Mortimer Adler's vision on becoming an educated early on in my college career. I have continued to pursue that vision for the last thirty years. I recently read a lecture Adler gave right before his seventy-seventh birthday. In this speech, he tells us how we can become an educated human being.
Young people seldom ask what is required to become educated. Adler believes this is a question people tend to ask in the later years. I began to ask this question while I was a college student. Adler believes we can only become educated in our later years. In our schooling, we can acquire the tools to become educated, but it does not occur in the schooling for young people.
Adler asserted that he did not regard himself as educated till he was in his fifties. He says that he was not educated even when he received his Ph.D. I remember another article I read by Adler stated that college graduation is just the beginning of learning. Most of what we learn in school we will not remember; but if we acquired the skills of the liberal arts--"the skills of reading and writing, of talking and listening, of asking questions and seeking answers to them, of defending what I thought was true and arguing against what I thought was false"--we can go on learning the rest of our lives and during the later years of our life we will become an educated human being. In addition, our schooling should have introduced us to the world of learning.
Most important, our schooling schooling should open up books to us. It should introduce us to the great authors, books, and ideas. The books need to be over our heads if we are going to grow intellectually. We will not really understand them while in school, but later on as we read them again and again, the light will come on. The skills of learning we acquired in our schooling we need to improve by continual use.
Adler states that the understanding he has acquired over the years came "slowly with the years and with the accumulation of challenging experiences that demanded reflective thought." Most of it came from his thinking and learning, by himself or through reading books, through the conversations he had with others about books, and through travel. He discovered that the process to become educated is a life-long process.
Adler gives some recommendations on becoming educated.
First, he provides a list of books that should be reread many times: The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides; some of the shorter dialogues by Plato (Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Protagoras, Symposium); Aristotle's Ethics and Politics; Plutarch's Lives; Augustine's Confessions; Dante's Divine Comedy; Montaigne's Essays; Four Shakespeare plays (Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, and Othello); Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government; Swift's Gulliver Travels; John Stuart Mill's essay on Liberty, his essay on Representative Government; The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay; and Tolstoy's War and Peace.
His second recommendation is not to read these books once, but many times. He suggest to read actively with pencil in hand. You need to have a conversation with the author, marking the text as needed. In addition, you need to read them and discuss them with others.
He gives a brief list of ideas that need to be understood: Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Liberty, Equality, Justice, Law, Constitution, Government, Democracy, Man, God, Nature, World, Love, Virtue, and Happiness.
If we persistently pursue these recommendations, we will one day be an educated human being.