Dear Mr. Bertucci,
Please feel free to quote any and all parts of this email…I apologize for the poor quality of writing. In my freshman year of high school, I took Great Books 1 with an online Protestant tutorial service. While I derived some benefit from the course, emphasis was placed on “teaching” the works, not “exploring” them. I must confess that I do not now remember in what year Aristotle was born, nor in what year he died. I only have a dubious recollection of how the Academy received its name, and I would not be able to recount the manner of Persian bridge making. Nevertheless, I would have continued with that tutorial service on to Great Books 2 had it not been for the fact that this tutorial reads many of the Church Fathers in the second year of Great Books. As a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism, I neither had nor have a great longing to learn about the Church Fathers from Protestants. I must not be ecumenical enough. Searching online, eventually my principal and I discovered a Catholic Great Books 2 program-one that was offered for college credit! We gathered information about the program, offered by Angelicum Academy, and shortly thereafter I registered for it.
The difference in approach between Angelicum Academy and the other tutorial service was obvious from day one. As Mr. Bertucci is wont to say, their program is more concerned with wisdom than information. It took me awhile to adapt to this different spirit, but eventually I was swept into the tide of the Great Conversation, with much thanks to Mr. Robert Hutchins’ excellent essay of the same title. Angelicum Academy’s Great Books program opens up the great books while opening minds.
Their program teaches students to think, not to memorize. Everything they claim about their program is true. I have taken my first steps into a larger world, a world I might never have known. I recoil at the thought that I might have lived out the rest of my days without the wisdom that beckons to us all in the great books. I will continue to read the great books for the rest of my life, though unfortunately it will not be with Angelicum Academy. I am leaving; in the fall I shall enter the University of Wisconsin. Though I was in Angelicum Academy’s Great Books program for but a year, and a very hectic year at that (through no fault of Angelicum Academy), their program is the defining element of my pre-collegiate education, my first great beacon to our world’s common intellectual tradition, and one of the few things I will regret abandoning for the halls of vulgar knowledge.
Angelicum Academy cannot provide the wisdom gained by suffering, nor that of a St. Alphonsus Liguori; however, it can well provide wisdom of the basic sort. Though for lack of a better term I call it basic, such wisdom seems to be infrequently found these days. Our civilization is rapidly advancing technologically, but the wisdom with which to use this technology no longer lies in our citizenry at large. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but a little wisdom can ensure that said knowledge is used for the good. You may slave over your mathematical science if you wish, but you will most likely forget more than half of it within the course of a few years.
Wisdom is not so desultory a guest. (Mathematical science is vanity, anyway; this is where St. Alphonsus’ wisdom proves useful.) A person should be loath to call oneself educated without an understanding of the tradition of the West. Only the educated are free, the philosophers say, and indeed we are all philosophers. The decisions we make from day to day are based on philosophy. Is it not irresponsible to base our decisions on philosophy if we do not have training in the thinking mechanism thus called? This email need not turn into an apology for philosophy or the Great Books, however; and to write on without end would diminish the chance that you will read this message. Suffice to say, Angelicum Academy provides understanding. You must enroll in their program, whether regular track or college track. If you lack funds, request a scholarship. It will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.
Dear Steve Bertucci,
As a junior student in the program, I have to say I absolutely love Angelicum–something I really have to remind myself every Monday night as I struggle to finish that week’s reading. The reading list is incredible–you definitely get an idea of how western civilization developed, as you read all the books that influenced it. For instance, last week we were reading Hobbes, and he was defining the dignity of a person as something that depended on their rank and power in life, which got me off to wondering if it wasn’t that sort of attitude that had eventually lead to abortion and euthanasia.
However, if it wasn’t for the discussions, I’m not sure how well I would have understood the readings–if you didn’t understand the reading, you have a terrible time keeping up with the conversation. So I often find myself rereading passages, thinking about what on earth the author was talking about, etc. In the actual class, we frequently refer to the book to support our arguments, and if you can’t find a passage supporting your thought, woe is you. You’re not allowed to twist the book so that it supports your belief; you’re welcome to disagree with the author’s conclusions (and we often do), but it says what it says, and you have to accept that. Whether I think it’s stupid or not, Calvin honestly believed in predestination. In the Calvin class, we were really urged to explore why Calvin thought that, instead of just dismissing it. Did anyone come out of class a Calvinist? No, but we sure had a better understanding of where Calvinists are coming from–and ultimately, why they’re wrong. In having to come up with rational arguments against Calvinism, we developed a better understanding of why Catholicism’s position on free will is the correct one.
The teachers usually start out with a question, and at the end of the class, we’ve generally gone over several aspects of the book. Also, one or both of the teachers end class with a concluding statement which clears up any confusion in the class. But they do urge us to think it out for ourselves, and are careful during class to not give away their own conclusions too early. And it really does force one to think when you’re confronted with questions such as: “What is freedom?”, “What is the value of education?”, and (my favorite!), “What is the end of the state?” And you can’t ever answer, “Well, because I think it should be this way,”–oh, no. You’ve got to find reasonable arguments, preferably based on the text. One of the best classes we ever had was on freedom–we eventually concluded that true freedom was following God’s will, after two hours of wrangling over why freedom couldn’t be doing whatever you darn well please. A teacher could have told us this at the beginning of the class, but I never would have remembered it so well, or grasped so much more thoroughly why freedom is that and not getting our own way. There are so many people nowadays who are going around proclaiming notions that sound good (such as the peace and love movement of the sixties) on the surface, but really aren’t. In these classes, we’re really learning why what is true is true, and therefore, how to defend it. If you’ve already had an argument in class about what peace truly is and what its place in the world is, it’s a lot easier to discuss it with someone who think it means no war ever.
The class definitely improves from year to year. The students are maturing; and also the more we’ve read, the richer the experience is. When we were reading Galileo, and his ideas about motion and time, several of us recalled Aquinas’ definition of God as the First Mover, as well as some of St. Augustine’s theories about time in the Confessions. So you really start connecting everything. And I would say we’re a lot more used to the questions, and we’re delving a lot deeper than we did in the beginning. Some of the questions we keep returning to, and I’m always getting a better understanding.
Sorry about this being so long!–I think I inherited my mom’s chatterboxiness.
Kate, daughter of Colleen T., now at Thomas Aquinas College
Hi Mr. B,
I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for these last four years! This program has changed my life for the better in so many ways. You are one of the most extraordinary people I have encountered in my life, and I feel so grateful to have been able to be a part of this program.
Thank you again Mr. B, for everything!
Dear Mr. Bertucci,
Thank you so much for everything you’ve taught me the past four years. The GB class has been really enjoyable for me and through it I gained knowledge and wisdom. You and your colleagues Dr. Hancock, Dr Redpath, and Dr. Taylor have guided my way of thinking, and I will never forget it. If I ever have children I want them to take the GB classes. ….J.G.
Thomas is looking forward to your classes. They really are fabulous…………..V.B.
Thank you for all you do for our children. I have to say the results I have seen are outstanding!………………..B.J.
I can hardly wait for school to start now! Look what you’ve done to me! Today I was excited to read Shakespeare. I’m suing you people ………J. M., 4th year student
I have never sat in on the class before today…J. won’t allow it. But A. wanted someone there today and I got to stay for the duration of the class.
I truly enjoyed it and I just want to thank you and Dr. Hancock for making the class so enjoyable. You are truly inspiring. Keep up the wonderful work!
I always enjoy listening in on your classes. I learn every time. M. is growing up in wisdom under your guidance…….Yours In Christ, P.S.
Both the girls are really enjoying their GB courses. You do a superb job! Thanks for your dedication…..God Bless You, P.Z.
Just a quick note to say thanks for the work you do. As I read your note to the students on “justice is not a narrow topic” it nearly brought tears to my eyes.
The class is exceeding my most optimistic expectations – which were quite informed and quite optimistic since A. spent 8th grade with you, too. It appears to me that A.’s personality is being shaped most positively; that she takes pride in herself as a person who is embarking on the Great Books, and she takes joy in what she has learned……..S.L.
Thank you for all you do to form these kids in knowledge and truth. The world is a better place because of your commitment and diligence!……A.H.
You were the best teacher I have ever had and the only one who has been very important in my intellectual growth. You filled my head with questions, while others tried to fill my head with answers and those questions have allowed me to find the real answers.
Ever since I took your class, I approach every learning experience, even mathematics, asking the question “why?” as many times as necessary until I get the root of the reason for something. That method of learning is what I learned from your class and I am thankful for it.
I have done well for myself in the years since taking your Great Books course. I am graduating near the top of my class as the National Merit Scholar and will be attending the University of Alabama in the fall on a scholarship that more than covers all my expenses. My highest career aspiration in life is to one day publish something that is taught long after I am dead in a Great Books course. Right now I am shooting a bit high as I just submitted some poetry to the New Yorker on the off chance that they like it.
I have to say, a couple hours a week for one year, your class has been an important factor in me becoming who I am.
Thank you, Stephen A.