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Classics

Read, discuss, and write on books
and participate in international writing contests.

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PROGRAMS

Classics

Classics is our reading and writing program in literature, Great Books, and philosophy for advanced 7th-12th grades.

Modern Literature

Middle • High

Examine the major works of literature from the present going back to the age of Romanticism.

Junior Classics

Junior Classics is our literature and writing program for 5th-8th grades. Upon successful completion, students move up to Classics.

Book Club A

Elementary • Middle

Study award-winning, modern classics from historical fiction to dystopian novels while discussing intriguing questions in philosophy.

Book Club B

Elementary • Middle

Study the classics by well-known authors like John Steinbeck and George Orwell while discussing major arguments from the history of philosophy.

Classical Literature

Middle • High

Examine the major works of literature from the age of Romanticism going back to classical antiquity.

The Great Books

High

Study the timeless works of great thinkers whose ideas have impacted the world.

Philosophy

High

Study the original writings of philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche, from classical antiquity to postmodernism.

FEATURES

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PANORAMA OF IDEAS

We critically discuss the complete circle of knowledge starting with literature in the first two stages of our curriculum, then advancing toward books on politics, economics, education, science, religion, and history in the third stage, and finally culminating in the original works of philosophers in the fourth stage. The great ideas of the great thinkers we examine have inspired debate and revolution. They shook civilization and helped make us who we are.

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CRITICAL READING

All our books are primary sources, meaning we don’t use textbooks but the original works in literature and in a wide variety of subjects and disciplines. We use the Socratic method to think critically and to examine ideas for multiple meanings and interpretations in Socratic seminars. Only by understanding the work deeply in these seminars are the students then ready to write critical essays analyzing and synthesizing ideas from the novel, play, short story, poem, philosophy, and the Great Book.

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LIBERAL EDUCATION

We provide our middle and high school students the essential elements of a general university or liberal education that the Ivy League students before the advent of progressive, specialized education of the 20th century were able to access. Our students broaden their intellectual horizons and cultivate a critical mind for success in any academic field.

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PURPOSE

Culture is a study of perfection. Culture seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere; to make all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light.

Matthew Arnold

English poet and cultural critic during the Victorian Era

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A WELL-ROUNDED INDIVIDUAL

Our purpose is to bring ‘the best that has been thought and known’ into the 21st century with maximum efficiency and effectiveness. We believe that the Classics offers tremendous educational power and will help improve humanity as we embark on an ever increasingly technological journey toward the future. We now more than ever before need to be well-rounded humans, rooted in knowledge of the primary source material for all current intellectual advancements in every subject.

A DEEP THINKER

The primary source is where the first thought and foundational principles of all disciplines we know today began. They began as the writings of geniuses in a vast array of skills and studies that now constitute the foundation of all intellectual activity today. The Classics is the collection of the most important primary source material. We seek to increase and enhance our students’ link to that source.

A CULTIVATED SCHOLAR

Critically reading the Classics creates a cultivated scholar that is knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects and disciplines. With such a base of knowledge it is easy to go deeper into any subject today and already have an understanding of its origins and first principles. This allows students to master new subjects quickly and allows them to talk to any professional in any field with a level of confidence and insight. Such cross-pollination of learning also leads to increased creativity in all activities.

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THE VALUE OF
STRANGENESS

We engage the student with great minds who do not share our assumptions. The writers lived in a different culture, with a different morality, a different religion, a different politics. Seeing our world anew or afresh is a primary source of human creativity.

THE VALUE OF
FORGOTTEN IDEAS

 

Some old ideas are not actually outdated. The entire period that we call the European Renaissance actually consisted of people rediscovering ideas from the ancient world and giving them a new application. Some of these old ideas are actually valuable.

THE VALUE OF FORMING
BETTER JUDGMENT

Books go the way of species, with over 99% of them becoming extinct over time. After wrestling with the classics, the student is in a much better position to make more discerning choices about what to read.

THE VALUE OF
MAKING CONNECTIONS
BETWEEN IDEAS

Seeing the connections that tie one thinker to another in a tradition gives the student a measure of how far we have come on some problems and what problems seem to have heavily resisted the attempts of human beings to give them answers. 

THE VALUE OF
CHALLENGING OURSELVES

The student becomes a better thinker, speaker, and writer by reading challenging texts in a range of subjects that span centuries, with ideas that challenge the way we think about ourselves and our world.

THE VALUE OF READING THE CLASSICS

5 STAGES OF EMERSON'S
CLASSICS

Stage 1

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Modern Literature

Middle • High

We read backward in time, in chronological order, from the present day to the age of Romanticism, to discover how major ideas and issues have evolved over the years. We cover multiple genres from contemporary and dystopian fiction to the Gothic novel and engage in Socratic seminars on major literary and philosophical themes from Postmodernism to Naturalism. What does it mean to be human? Can we construct a meaningful existence in a secular age? Should we pursue knowledge at all costs? These are some of the fundamental philosophical questions we discuss through our analysis of literature. Each book we study epitomizes the age in which it was written. We start from the present time with bestsellers that have won critical acclaim and awards including the Nobel Prize and the National Book Award and end up examining the classics of the 19th century. In addition to studying major works, we analyze a classic short story in every class written by a well-known author. After finishing an entire book, students write an essay and participate in a writer’s workshop. They also have the option of writing essays for international contests.

Stage 2

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Classical Literature

Middle • High

We continue to read, discuss, and write, with each book highlighting the major literary, philosophical, and social issues of the age. From the age of Romanticism we move backward in time to discuss the ideas of the Enlightenment and the Renaissance and end up studying the epic and drama of classical antiquity. Is this the best of all the possible worlds? Is human nature good or evil? How did Christian values overcome values of classical antiquity? These are some of the questions we wrestle with as we seek to understand the spirit of the ages that span vast centuries and continents. Among the literary masterpieces selected for Stage 2, the diction is more elevated, the language and syntax more complex and varied, and the social and cultural conditions of the times more foreign to us living today than in the books selected for Stage 1. We examine timeless ideas in classical literature, often neglected in the classroom today, to enrich our worldview and to interpret the ideas that shape our world in a new light. In addition to studying major works, we discuss a classic short story in every class written by a well-known author. After finishing an entire book, students write essays and participate in a writer’s workshop. They also have the option of writing essays for international contests.

Stage 3

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The Great Books

High

We study ideas that had a lasting and profound effect on civilization. We read ancient and Medieval biographies and histories as told by the first biographers and historians in Western civilization. We discuss the earliest treatises on atomic theory and the inductive method that gave birth to modern science, as well as political documents foundational to the creation of the modern republic. From analyzing an early work on feminism written during the age of Queen Victoria to the first books advancing the economic theories of capitalism and communism introduced by two philosophers, we traverse the trajectory of human thought, from classical antiquity to the present. In the process, we seek, not to refute the ideas that came earlier, but to understand and appreciate the flow of ideas throughout history. In every class we also analyze a classic poem written by a well-known poet. After finishing an entire book, students write an essay and participate in a writer’s workshop. They also have the option of writing essays for international contests.

Stage 4

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Philosophy

High

We discuss permanent and universal problems arising from fundamental questions: What is the good life? Does God exist? How do we know what we know? Is there an objective standard of beauty? What is a just state? We cover the major branches of the discipline from ethics to aesthetics, from epistemology to metaphysics. All readings are primary sources and original works by philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche. As with the Great Books curriculum, we start with classical antiquity and move forward in time, not simply to refute what has come before, but to see how ideas have accumulated and evolved over the centuries. After finishing an entire book, students write an essay and participate in a writer’s workshop. By studying the major philosophers and their arguments and how their ideas in various branches of philosophy interconnect throughout time, we prepare for the International Philosophy Olympiad and other writing contests. In every class we also analyze and discuss a classic poem written by a well-known poet.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Stage 5

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Writing Contests

High

In our final stage conscientious students will be engaged in several international writing contests that span the entire academic year. These prestigious contests are more challenging and rewarding than the contests at Stages 1 thru 4 and deal with subjects discussed throughout our Classics program. Topics can range from philosophy, politics, and economics to literature, theology, and law. Whether the contest asks for analytical writing on a specific work of literature or a research paper that allows students to choose their own topic from history, there are plenty of opportunities for students to improve their writing. The curriculum is structured in such a way that students have plenty of time to reflect and write on a topic for one contest before moving on to the next one. Students who demonstrate excellence in Stages 3 and 4 are eligible to join.

 
 

2 STAGES OF EMERSON'S
JUNIOR CLASSICS

Stage 1

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Book Club A

Elementary • Middle

We study award-winning modern classics while considering their historical background, cultural conditions, and philosophical significance. We annotate and analyze the story before outlining and writing the essay. The second half of the class is devoted to the study of philosophy. The readings on philosophy are entertaining and accessible to the young learner. Should I eat meat? How do I know the world isn’t virtual? Where do right and wrong come from? These are some of the big philosophical questions we discuss in Socratic seminars. Students also have the option of writing essays for international contests. 

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Book Club B

Elementary • Middle

We continue to read, discuss, and write essays on time-tested novels that allow for deeper reflection and discussion on issues relevant to history, culture, and philosophy. What does it mean to be educated? Can we create a perfect society? Can we be free of ideology? We consider these questions as well as arguments in our supplementary readings on the main branches of philosophy such as ethics and epistemology. Students refine their annotation skills as they analyze quotes and find convincing evidence from their readings before outlining and writing the essay. Students also have the option of participating in international contests offered throughout the three terms.

 
 

Stage 2

WHY STUDY CLASSICS WITH US?

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Accelerated

We study several major works every term accompanied by an abundance of shorter works, advancing at a pace faster than prestigious boarding schools in the US.

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Comprehensive

Whether it is Romanticism in literature or Caesar’s military campaigns in Great Books or Hegel’s dialectic in philosophy, we cover a kaleidoscope of ideas spanning over two millennia.

Rigorous

Our middle and high school students study literature at the high school and college levels in the first two stages of our program; our high school students study the Great Books and philosophy at the college level in the last two stages.

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Effective

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Critically reading and writing on challenging classics, both fiction and non-fiction, prepare our students for the SAT and ACT. Our students also win top prizes in prestigious writing contests, including the International Philosophy Olympiad, and are published in the Concord Review.

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