Beginning in December 2008, The Agora Foundation began a series of weekend seminars designed to educate high school teachers in the seminar method and the great books approach. We held two weekend seminars in Los Angeles County thanks to a generous grant from The Ahmanson Foundation. This work continued through direct training with Granada Hills Charter High School in January 2009. Thanks for further funding from The Ahmanson Foundation, Southern California Edison, The Shanbrom Family Foundation, and private donors, training has been conducted at schools throughout Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, as well as Washington state. The Agora Foundation found each of these events to be extremely worthwhile (see a sample of attendee quotes below).
We intend to continue this valuable work through grant funding, support from our members, and appealing to high school staff development investment funds. We see that high school teachers are searching for ways to engage their classrooms, to enliven the great texts that make up our cultural history, and to enrich the lives of their students. Please help us to bring these seminars to high schools throughout the state by contributing to The Foundation. Our hope is to have a least one teacher-oriented event per month, pending funding requirements.
Below is a link to a detailed guide The Foundation developed to guide teachers in the method and in selecting readings for discussion. We welcome your input.
Quotes from High School Teachers
I would like to comment on my experience with The Agora Foundation’s Great Books Seminar. The selection of materials was among the most intriguing I have ever read for a seminar: the connections were subtle and thought-provoking; the impact of the cumulative responses and insights as we worked through each one was brilliant.
I feel that participation in these kinds of Socratic seminars is the best professional development that I have experienced in my teaching career. Taking part in the activities of close reading, critical analysis and shared inquiry in our discussions provides teachers with models to instruct and inspire their students. So much of our instructional time is spent delivering facts, data, and information, that we miss opportunities to help our students actually think. Employing Socratic methodology with challenging, complex texts provokes thoughtful, inspired responses from students and assures that they grapple with the ideas, conflicts and dilemmas that make us human.
I’ve been attending Great Books seminars put on by The Agora Foundation for several years now. The things I have learned from participating in these seminars have been a help to me both professionally and personally. As a history teacher, I have a responsibility to introduce my students to some of the people, events, and ideas that have helped to form our present world. I have been able to enrich the course work that I produce for my own students with the knowledge I have gained from seminar readings. For instance, this past fall semester my eighth grade U.S. history students read excerpts from John Locke’s Treatises of Civil Government. Our readings focusing primarily on his theories regarding the foundations of Natural Law and the role government should play in the promotion and maintenance of Natural Rights in a society. We then compared Locke’s ideas on Natural Rights and the role of government in society with the words used by Jefferson in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. My goal was to illustrate the connections between these ideas that helped to define some of the founding principles that our nation has been and continues to be built upon. This is just one of the many lessons that I’ve been able to create and incorporate in my own classroom setting as a direct result of my readings and participation in the seminars put on by The Agora Foundation. Finally, I also feel that going to these seminars has helped me to become a better person. I don’t know if there is a way to measure it or not, but I believe that I have gained quite a bit more wisdom since I started attending. It is not just being exposed to some of western civilization’s past great thinkers that has helped in forming a better me, but being around some great thinkers of the present who make up the participants of the seminars put on by the Agora Foundation.