The “Great Books of the Western World” and its companion collection, “The Great Ideas Today,” were published more than a half-century ago. Their introduction was designed to stimulate thinking and their publication was an attempt to bring the best of education to Americans everywhere.

Unfortunately, education has slid backward from that earlier promise.

Even in the time of their original publication, the naysayers were attacking “The Great Books,”

“by those modernists who believed that the world began last Thursday; by the cultural jingoists, who believed it began in America . . .“

(“Robert Maynard Hutchins” by Milton Mayer, p.304)

Today, public education has suffered even more damaging blows. It has morphed from a “culture of learning” into a “culture of testing.” And, that is not a good thing.

Regurgitation of facts and information has become the almost-exclusionary emphasis. The value of our public schools is judged almost exclusively by standardized test scores.

And, our children lose.

Education, rightfully, should be about thinking and questioning. It’s the questions that should be sought and not just the answers. It’s the mental stimulation encountered in “The Great Books” and “The Great Ideas” that should challenge our young people to ponder (and, even challenge) the thinking of the wisely observant.

Premises need to be questioned before acceptance. And, acceptance needs not be a group reaction. Society loses when we all begin to think alike. Our future dims.

Too many of us embrace testing because we are entranced with objectivity – or, at least, we’re entranced by the appearance of it.

What can you and I, as parents, do about this loss of “a culture of learning?”

Well, it’s worth paying attention to our children when they come home from school. Are they asking lots of questions about the subjects they encountered in school that day or are they absorbed in the memorization process as they get ready for their next school day? If you find that their school is failing them, pick up the slack yourself. Discuss many of the questions examined in “The Great Books” and “The Great Ideas.” You both will benefit from reading or re-reading the great thinkers of our civilization.

Ask the questions. That’s the key. The answers are the easy part.

Knowing the “Whats” and “Wheres” is not always better than knowing the “Hows” and “Whys.”

More on Thursday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning