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Day Two at the National Symposium for Classical Education

Great Hearts Institute March 21, 2024 -

The momentum of the 2024 National Symposium for Classical Education continued to build throughout the main ballroom and breakout workshop rooms on day two at the Phoenix Convention Center. The day was filled with meaningful conversations about classical education, through keynote addresses, interactive workshops, and through discussions around the coffee carafes or in the lunch line. The fruits of a classical education were demonstrated through special presentations. The 2023 Great Hearts Bard Winner recited his winning piece of poetry, “The Trees are Down” by Charlotte Mew, and stole the hearts of the audience with his charm while doing so. The choir from Cicero Prep performed for the post-lunch audience and captured the love of the fine arts that comes from a classically educated scholar.

Cicero Prep Choir performing at the National Symposium for Classical Education.

The crowd of over 750 symposiasts were delighted with the first speaker of the morning, Roosevelt Montás, as he charismatically delivered his keynote address, “Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation,” followed by a Q&A session.

“I talked about liberal education and the way in which liberal education, it fits us for a life freedom,” said Montás. “The way in which a liberal education equips us to manage our freedom both individually and collectively. And the way in which a liberal education recognizes our capacity and our responsibility to work out for ourselves a notion of the human good and then organize our lives according to that. A liberal education doesn’t give you what the answer is to what the human good is. A liberal education equips you to construct and work out that answer about what the human good is.”

Roosevelt Montas answering audience questions at the National Symposium for Classical Education

Montás is Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University. He holds an A.B. (1995), an M.A. (1996), and a Ph.D. (2004) in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. He speaks and writes on the history, meaning, and future of liberal education and is author of Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation (Princeton University Press, 2021). In his book, the Dominican-born academic tells the story of how the Great Books transformed his life—and why they have the power to speak to people of all backgrounds.

“Being at the Symposium for Classical Education and speaking to teachers who share so fundamentally commitments that I have,” said Montás. “It’s an honor for me to help to encourage and to enrich the way in which people who are committed to bringing classical education in the K-12 space.”

Great Hearts Institute counts it a great privilege to have such a revered speaker and author join the Symposium this year. “Teachers from Great Hearts and the wider classical education movement have read Roosevelt Montás’ book Rescuing Socrates, a vibrant defense of the Great Books presented through a warm biographical narrative. We are honored to have Dr. Montás share his story at this year’s Symposium,” said Jake Tawney, Chief Academic Officer for Great Hearts Academies.

Montás immigrated from the Dominican Republic to Queens, New York, when he was twelve and encountered the Western classics as an undergraduate in Columbia University’s renowned Core Curriculum, one of America’s last remaining Great Books programs. The experience changed his life and determined his career—he went on to serve as director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum and started a Great Books program for low-income high school students who aspire to be the first in their families to attend college.

Montás hopes attendees walk away from his talk with more than just notes. “I hope that teachers feel encouraged, and I hope that a teacher feels enriched. I hope that a teacher feels inspired to do the work that they’re doing and to do it a with a deeper sense of its importance and of just how deep the roots of that work go in our culture,” he said.

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