What is a liberal education?
Since September of 1998 the Great Books Seminars in Ojai had offered small groups of individuals (average 15 attendees per seminar) the opportunity to attend one- and two-day seminars, taking place about every six weeks. This initiative was sponsored by Behavioral Science Technology, Inc., (www.bstsolutions.com) whose Chairman of the Board was also one of the founders of the Great Books Seminars in Ojai. The subject matter of the Great Books Seminars in Ojai has ranged over many disciplines and involved many teachers skilled in the seminar method from institutions throughout the country. All of the seminars had this in common: they focused on works generally accepted in the great books cannon. Click on Past Offerings for a complete list of the themes and works covered by the Great Books Seminars in Ojai since its beginning.
Despite the good work that had been done, more could be achieved. In particular, we believed the seminars had not had the consistent exposure to reach all those interested or for whom the seminars would benefit. The barriers to increased enrollment were two-fold: the first had been funding. The cost of attendance at weekend seminars had been $200 for much of the organization’s life. A self-selecting sliding scale was employed ($125 - $300) which had a positive effect. In addition, since the cost of attendance and travel was an impediment to some, particularly teachers and students, the best way to increase seminar attendance was to operate as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in order to secure support from various charitable sources. This was achieved in December of 2007. With this in mind, we transformed the Great Books Seminars in Ojai into The Agora Foundation.
The name The Agora Foundation was chosen to invoke tradition and to point to the endeavor’s future. Agora, in ancient Greek, means open or gathering space and later came to mean the marketplace. Socrates, as written about by Plato and others, did not seek the solitary life to further his thought — rather he insisted on dialogue with others, especially in places where crowds gather, so he regularly engaged others in the Agora. Further, many of those who spoke with Socrates had influence in society and participated in the commonwealth. Moving Forward: The Agora Foundation seeks to provide educational opportunities for those not able to return to formal schooling, but who want to receive a formation in the fundamental philosophical, theological, scientific, and literary ideas that have shaped our civilization. In addition to the focus on subject matter, there is a conscious effort to encourage those segments of our society that have broad influence on others, for example, teachers, business executives, attorneys, doctors, and students. In other words, The Agora Foundation will work in the “marketplace” to improve the community.
As James Madison said, “the advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”