Hillsdale's Great Books 102 online course

July 23, 2015

Ten years ago, our oldest child was getting ready to go off to Hillsdale College. Since then, all three of our children have graduated from there, the youngest just two months ago. We were so happy they each decided to attend this nationally recognized small liberal arts college, just an hour and a half from our home, and we never once regretted sending them there.

I've enjoyed their education vicariously over the past 10 years, talking with them about the Big Ideas. The Good. The True. And the Beautiful. Yes, they really talk about those things at this college.

Hillsdale College is nationally recognized, partly because of its fierce independence from federal control; it refuses any federal funding, preferring its academic freedom. It is one of the only colleges in the U.S., outside of military academies, that requires each student to take a course in the U.S. Constitution. (Wish some of our current leaders had gone there.)

But what I love most about Hillsdale is its core program that every student needs to take to graduate. Students cannot transfer in English or history courses. Everyone has to take Great Books 101 and 102, Western and American Heritage, classes in the arts. These subjects are near and dear to my heart. I went to high school and college in the 70s, and all the classics were being tossed aside in favor of more "relevant" or "hip" books, and experimentation in education was the order of the day.                                

I never read Homer or Dante until I homeschooled my own children. I had only read two plays by Shakespeare. I hadn't read Milton or Chaucer, Plato or Aristotle.

I've always been a voracious reader, but nobody made me read these influential, foundational books. Somebody should have! Young people don't usually gravitate to these tough, challenging books. But I got to read the Iliad and the Odyssey three times, teaching my own children. And then later hear what my children's professors said about them when they read them again in college.

 For the past 10 years I've wished that I had gone to Hillsdale instead of that big state university. To have been able to discuss the Great Books, join in the Great Conversation, in small classes, taught by excellent professors, who know their students by name.

But, fortunately, there is a way for me to "go" to Hillsdale.

Hillsdale offers several online courses for free (donations accepted).  I signed up for U.S. Constitution and Western Heritage some time ago, but haven't done either one yet. But recently, I just decided I'm going to make the time. (Perhaps because there's no child of mine over there anymore to talk over classes with?). I got an email about the online course Great Books 102, and I started it this week. (I'll go back to Great Books 101 at some point.)

After an introductory lecture by college president Larry Arnn (so inspiring; I always want to read Aristotle or Winston Churchill after I listen to him), the first lecture begins with a discussion by English professor Dr. Stephen Smith of the novel Don Quixote.

Two short excerpts of the book are linked for easy access. You don't have to read the entire 1,000-page book by Cervantes. Unless you want to. A short quiz for fun (I got 10 out of 10!). And there's an interesting Q & A session after each lecture.

Hamlet, Notes from the Underground, Pride and Prejudice, and Huckleberry Finn are some of the books in this 11-week class. I have read all these books, but I will enjoy the lectures. These are books you can read over and think over many times. You don't have to do this course in 11 weeks; go as slow or as fast as you want, reading all the books in their entirety, or just enjoying an overview of some great classic literature. And I love that I can stop the video when it seems my note-taking isn't as fast as it used to be!

I love to learn . . . this was interesting: "we no longer privilege the text over the reader. We don't say, 'this is beautiful, you have to learn to love it. You'll be better if you do.' Teachers used to say this. Now, it's 'find your own reality' in the text." -- from intro by Larry Arnn.
If Great Books 102 doesn't interest you, there are a number of other courses available. Just go to their website.

Anybody want to join me? Let me know in the comments section; it would be fun to discuss the reading with you!

Go here to sign up.


  1. I know I would love to take this course on Great books. I went and looked at the website and the frequently asked questions. I need to decide if I am willing to put the time into it before I commit. But it is oh so tempting....thinking...thinking! Thanks for the info my friend. Hugs, Diane

  2. Wow Deborah that is really great that you're doing these online classes! Good luck. Enjoy the weekend.

  3. Wow that is great that you're taking these online classes. Enjoy!

  4. Yay, Deborah! I love what you wrote and that you're doing this for yourself, your mind. The years are going to pass no matter, so at the end of the course just imagine what you will have accomplished--a very well-furnished mind for one thing, an interesting conversationalist.

    Keep us updated on how you're enjoying it, please.


  5. WOW- very tempting. What a great way to keep our minds sharpened.

    I grew up in a small town with old-school, classic English teachers and we read all those all classics. The new age stuff hadn't reached us, or if it had they dismissed it. (For which I am forever grateful.) My mother and father were voracious readers and had a most wonderful library. Each of us always had a book going.

    I am going to consider this class - not sure I can with my hobbies and such, but you have intrigued me greatly, thank you, dear friend. ♥♥♥

  6. Dearest Deborah,
    Oh, you sum it up so well. The writings we receive in the mail from Hillsdale College, because Pieter for years proudly supported them, are such a breath of fresh air compared to many of our leaders that obviously did NOT go there.
    Sad fact and the course in the US Constitution should be mandatory to all students!
    Great choice for doing this now your three children all have graduated. Enjoy your time.

  7. I have heard great things about the Constitution course for years now. It may be time! Enjoy your courses. (I have a degree in English. Perhaps it is time for a refresher there as well—just for fun.)

  8. Mom went to Hillsdale College and it was exceptional then, as now. Love, love ,love they don't accept any Federal monies.

  9. How interesting! I have read some of these in the past... I think that I grew up reading old-fashioned books and then classics in my English class...and there I was allowed to read on my own by the teacher because I'd read the class book in a week or so and he let me to just go on, on my own...

  10. Hi Deborah, Congrats on your on line class. It looks fun and interesting. Enjoy the process and the learning. Blessings to you my friend. Hugs, cm

  11. Good for you! I did find that it was wonderful to be able to study things in homeschooling (esp. with Julia) that I'd never read before. I'm so happy for you!

  12. Sounds wonderfully enriching. Hope you share more about it as the course goes on.


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