“This milestone marks the continuity of the Basic Program community and its values over time, from the founding three quarters of a century ago right up to the present day. A ribbon runs from current students, alumni, and instructors back through several generations and ultimately connects us to the first year adults gathered in discussion groups to pursue liberal education and the life of the mind under the name, organization--and especially the values and practices—of the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults.”
—Kendall Sharp, Cyril O. Houle Chair, Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults
Novelist and English professor John Erskine is the grandfather of the Great Books movement in the 20th century. He tested his technique in a training program he established for American doughboys in Europe after World War I. Then, in his controversial and enormously popular General Honors Course begun in 1921 at Columbia University, Erskine established a reading list of 52 authors and a captivating, idiosyncratic discussion method. Students were enthralled and turned into disciples. One of these students was Mortimer J. Adler. He in turn converted the young dean of Yale law school, Robert Maynard Hutchins. In 1929 Hutchins was chosen to be the new president of The University of Chicago. One of his first acts as president was to invite Adler to join the faculty and together they championed the great books idea at Chicago.
Justice Hugo Black once called George Anastaplo, AB’48, JD’51, PhD’64, “too stubborn for his own good.” Sixty-some years later, Anastaplo sits in a basement room in the Gleacher Center, in downtown Chicago, surrounded by a dozen adult-education students, the picture of cheerful amiability. At 86 years old, Anastaplo has taught in the University of Chicago’s Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults for 55 years. A small man with white hair and clear gray eyes, wearing running shoes and an old tweed jacket, Anastaplo is lively and relaxed. A photocopy of Emerson’s essay “Friendship” lies on the table in front of him.