OGB Podcast #15 – Marsha Familaro Enright on Montessori, Meeting Ayn Rand, and Building Reading Confidence in Adults
You’ve heard her in the OGB staff seminar discussions, now she’s joined the podcast to tell Scott her encounters with the Great Books. Marsha Enright developed a strong interest in education and the problems with modern public education at a young age. As a young women she studied objectivism with followers of Ayn Rand in New York City in the 70’s, occasionally discussing questions with Rand herself (who was in her 70’s at the time). Later as a mother, dissatisfied with the schooling options available to her children, Marsha sought out Montessori schools in Chicago where she met a gifted and influential teacher. Together they founded their own Montessori academy in Beverly Hills/Morgan Park in southwest Chicago.
Since then, Marsha has furthered her lifelong interest in education by joining Online Great Books as a seminar leader. She has also developed an introductory reading course for new students at OGB aimed at helping them grapple with the abstractions of the sometimes difficult or obtuse texts on the reading list. Unfortunately many adults had traumatic experiences reading difficult and important texts in the classroom — like Shakespeare in high school — which puts them off reading for life. They feel that they aren’t prepared, or that they aren’t smart enough, for the kind of reading that OGB asks of its participants. So Marsha has developed a program to help readers learn to engage with more difficult texts, work through antiquated language (Marsha describes English as “a crazy car crash of languages”), and build a foundation of ideas that they can use to understand the complex concepts presented in works like Plato’s Republic or Aristotle’s Ethics. Throughout her endeavors, a passion for knowledge and guiding others to self-improvement shines bright.
Marsha is a regular in the roundtable discussions on the Great Books, so tune in to the recent episodes on Plato’s Republic (#12-14) to hear more from her!
- Marsha introduces herself
- The direction of education today
- Ayn Rand essay “The Comprachicos”
- The Online Great Books seminar experience for adult education
- Marsha’s experience using the Montessori Method
- Marsha’s epistemology
- Montessori Magnet program in Chicago
- On meeting Ayn Rand
- Introduction to the Reader’s Confidence Course
- The Great Connections Gap Year Program overview
- Goodbyes and sendoff
Resources/Articles/People Mentioned In The Podcast
- Great Connections and Leap Year Program
- Ayn Rand essay, “The Comprachicos
- Montessori Method
- Introduction To Epistemology
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Romeo and Juliet
- Common Ground On Common Core
Scott Hambrick: I’ll let you introduce yourself so, there you go, go ahead. Hey, Marsha, who are you?
Marsha Enright: Hey, put me on the spot there. I run the Great Connections and Leap Year Program, and I’ve been interested and involved in philosophy and the Great Books, and in education for decades. I’m very concerned about what’s going on in education today.
Scott Hambrick: Okay. What are you concerned about? I’ll bite. I am too.
Marsha Enright: Two different levels to it. On the one hand, I’m concerned about the things that are in the news lately. If you follow what’s going on in education. For example all the push in the colleges to clamp down on people actually speaking their minds about things because “this” or “that” idea is not the approved. It’s kind of ironic that the left has been pushing this because they were the ones who were really against blacklisting people, back in the 50s possibly, but now they’re going to blacklist you if you have any idea that doesn’t fit their paradigms. What’s going on in the academia, to me, is the result of a long term effort to change the minds of young people.
Scott Hambrick: You recommended to me that I read Ayn Rand essay, “The Comprachicos,” (is that how you pronounce the thing?) which is just about that. It’s about how education forms the mind of the (I’m making scare quotes) “the educated.” So, the “Comprachicos” were this sort of, (I don’t know if it’s true or not, I looked it up, at least in folklore there was) this group of roaming entertainer gypsy kind of people who would supposedly kidnap a kid and put them in a jar and then feed them until the kid was deformed by growing up inside of this container. Then when they reached a certain age they would break the container and they would put the kid on display like at a freak show like in a carnival. That container changed the shape of that person forever and Rand’s idea, in that essay, is that education changes the shape of the educated forever. We have to be careful about how that’s done and how we allow that to happen and what our aims are.
Marsha Enright: Exactly, if you shape the mind at a young age, it’s very very difficult to change that shape to make that person capable of thinking well, of “getting out of the cave” as Plato says.
Scott Hambrick: Right. From time to time I call Online Great Books members who have been going to seminar to see what’s going on, what do they think of the seminar experience, and what can we do to make it better. The main complaint or comment is that they don’t really know what to expect and they don’t know what they are going to be talking about and they would like homework. And the point of the seminar is that you don’t know what to expect, that it’s going to be about the text, and that there is no homework. Their minds have been formed, they have been taught somehow that they can only have thought if it’s mediated. They can only have conversation if it’s mediated and we’re working hard to try to undo that but it’s tough.
Marsha Enright: One of the beautiful things about that kind of dialogue is that it helps a person learn how they can understand anything themselves first hand. If you’re going to live in a free society you have to be able to do that because you have to be able to make a lot of choices and make a lot of decisions and decide what’s best for yourself, and take responsibility for it. It’s a wonderful setting to learn that kind of thing and first of all, to hone your reasoning ability because you’re having to give evidence for whatever you’re saying out of the text or experience and you’re listening to the way other people reason about the same things. You’re gaining skills by hearing other good ways of coming at things. Right?
Scott Hambrick: It makes you more empathetic and be attuned to them, it’s fascinating.
Marsha Enright: Yes.
Scott Hambrick: But you’ve been concerned about education your whole adult life and probably before then and I learned about you through our mutual friend Malachy Walsh who has been on this podcast and he’s said, “you’ve got to meet Marsha.” You sent me this email and your last name’s Enright and your first name’s Marsha so your email starts with “m-e-n-r-i-g-h-t” and I thought, “oh my gosh, I’ve got some men’s rights activist that’s emailed me here.” I opened it up and met you and you’re just a delight.
Marsha Enright: Thank you.
Scott Hambrick: One of the things, there are so many things I like about you, but one of the things I like most, is you weren’t happy with the school situations that you could find for your children so you just…well, tell everybody what you did.
Marsha Enright: I’ve actually been concerned about education since I was a kid, unlike a lot of people I really loved school, I loved to learn, I was eager to soak up whatever they were going to give me. But so many other kids were goofing around all the time and they were frustrating because they would interfere with the learning. Until I realized that they were doing that because they were so unhappy with the circumstances. What I didn’t like about school was the social situation which i thought was very damaging to a lot of people.
Scott Hambrick: Yeah, it’s poisonous.
Marsha Enright: Yeah, and it tended to encourage “pack” mentality. I said to myself, “I don’t want this to happen to my kids when they grow up,” so what kind of system would be good for them. I kind of had it in the back of my mind that all the time I was growing up until I was about twenty, I ran into some articles about the Montessori Method by a Montessori name Beatrice Hussein who had a school out in California. She summarized what the Montessori Method was about and I said, “Whoa, this sounds really good, I think I like this idea,” so, I went out and read everything I could about the method and I started observing at schools and I said, “okay, this is what I want for my kids.”
Scott Hambrick: Can you summarize what the Montessori Method is?
Marsha Enright: Probably some basics of it. The Montessori Method is a developmentally oriented education system. In other words it’s created in a way to give kids what they need at the different times of their lives because they need different kinds of things at different times. When you’re very young (you’re under six) you need a lot of sensory motor-work. When you’re six to nine years old you’ve started to wake up to ideas and you’re becoming very philosophical about the world, you know, “what is everything, why is everything the way it is,?” and so forth. When you’re a young adult, which is the age that I’m concerned about, you’re trying to find your place in life and you’re trying to find “okay, what is my mission in life?” “What way will I be most productive?” “Will I feel the best about myself?” “Will I find a meaningful life?” Each level requires a different kind of attention, so that’s level one, and Montessori figured this out back in the early 1900s. She was the first woman doctor in Italy, and she was very schooled in biology, and she brought her knowledge in biology and embryological development to the idea of the developed of the mind, and she said that the young child is the spiritual embryo. She didn’t mean spiritual in the mystical sense but in the sense of an unfolding spirit inside. How do we nurture that? It’s very developmentally oriented and she was the one to first fully implement that young children learn best, for example if you have concrete materials that embody the concepts that you’re trying to teach them. For example we teach mathematics to three year olds by using beads that represent numbers and they end up being able to do equations up into the thousands with the beads and then later on they learn how to symbolize those. But then they have this really great concrete idea in their mind about what the numbers mean. There’s literally hundreds of math materials, biology materials, history materials. History for example is taught by time lines so, U.S history is taught by the terms of the presidents and the child will make a giant timeline with figures on the floor, and then he’ll relate all of the things that he learns about the different times of the different presidents to that time line. That gives a really solid, concrete thing to keep in your mind. Because you see, the human mind, is in a certain sense, has two different elements in it. You have the older, perceptual ability to grasp the world: of seeing, sensing.
Scott Hambrick: You mean like older in like prehistoric?
Marsha Enright: Yes. Exactly. Prehistoric. The more animal level of our consciousness.
Scott Hambrick:That’s where I like to operate.
Marsha Enright: You’re a fooler about that. We have this new ability that arose, I don’t know, it seemed very clearly to arise about fifty thousand years ago. There’s a lot of controversy about it which is our ability to reason about things or to think in abstractions. We’re able to look at ten dogs and we’re able to see the similarities between them and come up with the idea of dog, and then that’s really powerful. Right?
Scott Hambrick: Right. This is where you get mad at Plato. If you listen to our discussions about the republic this is where Marsha gets mad at Plato for talking about the form of dogs like there’s this mystical dogness out there somewhere that we know that all dogs partake in. That’s where Marsha gets irritated with him.
Marsha Enright: Well I’m a very solid Aristitilean.
Scott Hambrick: Right.
Marsha Enright: Epistemologically, psychologically, biologically, all that. Your mind, the human mind, needs to be able to connect that abstract thing with the concrete world and connect the two functions (the perceptual function with the abstract function). Right? That’s why we need a lot of concrete things to represent the abstractions. Words are the main one that we use. They’re an audio/visual symbol that we use. This is why, for children, it’s really important to have concrete materials to represent the abstr that you’re trying to teach them.
Scott Hambrick: So, in “Marsha’s epistemology,” you’re trying to teach them word is a concrete?
Marsha Enright: Well, the audio/visual part of it is.
Scott Hambrick: I dig it. I think this is where I should say that you are a psychologist as well.
Marsha Enright: In the sense that I’m very interested in psychology: I have a Master’s.
Scott Hambrick: Yes, and it shows.
Marsha Enright: The certification people might not call me a psychologist.
Scott Hambrick: We don’t like those guys anyway.
Marsha Enright: Where was I? In Montessori we have all these different subjects; they’re arranged in order of difficulty, the children work on their own individual work with the idea that each person develops differently. The teacher’s job is to really observe the individual children and feed them the lessons they need, the different materials in small groups. The classroom is arranged with shelves of the materials all arranged. The child can work with other people if they want but they don’t have to but their responsible with the materials to go get them from the shelves, put them on their own space, work on them, and then put them away. What happens is because they’re not forced to share with other people they really like to.
Scott Hambrick: And, you were looking at the educational environment, in the Chicago area, and you had kids, and you knew about this Montessori Method, and you weren’t happy with the options that were available for your children, and being Marsha you said, “well, I’ll just go create what I need.”
Marsha Enright: Well, I had to, I mean there wasn’t… Actually what happened was there was a Montessori Magnet program in the local Chicago public school that had been … There’s a strong Montessori influence here in my neighborhood, (I live in the Beverly Hills/Morgan Park neighborhood of Chicago, it’s on the far southwest side) and it has a lot of professionals and civil servants, and business people that live here. There was a group of people that, forty-five or fifty years ago, started a Montessori preschool here, and my children went there and then those people and others in the neighborhood had managed to get a magnet program started in the local public school. I went to observe that magnet program thinking that maybe I’d put my son in that when he was ready to go to first grade but it was really uncertain. In other words if you got one teacher in that program and they were very Montessori, it was beautiful, the other ones didn’t know what they were doing. So, I didn’t want to leave it up to that. I found a Montessori school in the nearby suburb of Blue Island that was working up a private one and I ended up sending my son there but when he got to third grade they were going to close because they had to leave their building and some of the other parents that I had gotten to know tried to get them to move over to the Beverly Hills neighborhood. We found a space, because there was much more interest in Montessori here, but the directors didn’t want to so that’s when I said to myself, “okay, how about if we start our own place.”
Scott Hambrick: Stage a coup.
Marsha Enright: And I had the good fortune of meeting a brilliant, wonderful Montessori teacher when my children were in the preschool, Diana Butler, who then (when this came up) was working in the Kankakee public schools, in a Montessori program, but that was like an hour drive. I thought, “hmm, maybe she’d rather work for us right down the block.” It turned out she said to me that she’d always wanted to start a school but she didn’t think she could do it herself. So that’s how we started.
Scott Hambrick: You and I haven’t ever talked about this thing… So, you’re a Great Books person… How do you think that the Great Books Method falls on the Montessori developmental model? So, adults seems to benefit a great deal from using the tests to learn about abstractions, to learn about how to think, like the mechanics of thinking actually. It seems to be a good way to learn those things. Have you ever thought about that in terms of the Montessori model and how to go from the pedagogy for the kids, you know, the pediatrician (the “ped” part) to the andragogy thing (the adult, the human, fully developed person.
Marsha Enright: Oh, for sure, because as I said, in Montessori, the big principle in Montessori is that you cannot know what any person needs to learn. It’s what the Montessori called the mystery of the child. You can know the things that would be very useful for them to learn but the best thing you can do is create a very rich environment that’s appropriate for the way they need to learn. And then you’re the guide, as the teacher you’re the guide, you’re not the authority on the information. You’re authoritative in the sense that you’re very knowledgeable, but it’s up to them to learn the details. So, it’s developmental at the young adult level that’s the age, and the adult level, at which you’re trying to develop your reasoning powers and your most abstract ideas so you can figure out what to do with your life and how to navigate your life. The wonderful thing about the Great Books is you’ve got these people who are the most amazing thinkers that have ever lived. When you read them, it’s so contemporary. Once you get past the ancient language, what they’re talking about is so contemporary, they grapple with the same problems that we have today. So, you get to see how somebody like that did it and that’s why it helps your reasoning so much.
Scott Hambrick: The Montessori seems to believe that functioning in objective reality puts the pressure on the person to figure out what they need to know, like there’s an emergent quality to education that, if you put somebody in the real world they very quickly discover what they need to know in order to live the “good life” as opposed to have some highly curated curriculum based … I don’t know. What’s the most recent federal initiative in public schools? What do they call it? Common Core. It’s where you’re a statillian, right? It’s where you have faith that the objective reality will put pressure on somebody that will lead them to the thing that they need to know and it doesn’t necessarily have to be curated. I love that I’m an adult, I think, and I had a lady ask me the other day what this scar was: and it’s not. It’s a wrinkle because I hate everything. I seem to be able to unschool myself and still learn new skills. I’ve been out of school longer than in school and I’ve learned more since I’ve left school than I did when I was there. Unschooling seems to work for us and my kids are doing it to and it’s fine. They’re just fine.
Marsha Enright: The problem with traditional education is, it’s not really organized for the benefit of the student, for the needs of the student. This is why it’s so frustrating for so many people and that’s why, to contrast something like Montessori, you were talking about butting up against the real world and having to learn something. In the Montessori program real world activities are always included; whether it’s cooking, whether it’s learning how to run a business, whether it’s doing a play, figure out how to go on a field trip. It’s what she calls “practical life activities” to help with that kind of issue that you’re talking about.
Scott Hambrick: I was telling you one of the main reasons people don’t join us is one, is the price which, I can’t really do anything about. Another one is they’re not sure they have the time to do the reading and join us in this. Another one, it’s rare that I get someone to be honest with me about this, is another reason that people don’t take up a study of the Great Books or lots of different educational endeavors is they don’t think they’re up to it. They don’t think they can do the reading. You said, “Gosh, I think I could help with that.” So, we were talking about how we might help people get up to the task of reading and we realized, “well, most people know phonics and they can sound out words and they can use a dictionary.” They have the basic skills they need to actually decode the symbols on the page, the problem is really about confidence and practice and you said, “maybe we could help them with some sentence stems?” I said, “you know Nathanial Brandon? You know his work?” And you’re like, “oh, yeah.” So, tell about that.
Marsha Enright: Oh sure. Well he was an associate of Ayn Rand for many years and he became a psychologist and he developed this methodology, that’s really powerful and useful, that’s called “sentence completion.” You have a beginning of a sentence like, “when I talk to my mother I feel…,” and what you’re supposed to do with this is you’re supposed to fill in, immediately what you think when you read that sentence. If you do this, over a period of time with some of these wonderful sentences stems, you start to bring up material you didn’t realize was in your mind about the subjects. And it’s very helpful for working through problems that you have, in which you didn’t know what was going on in your subconscious, or what were the ideas and the values (the premises) that were driving you to feel the way you do.
Scott Hambrick: It’s like a guided introspection.
Marsha Enright: That’s a good way of putting it.
Scott Hambrick: But where I wanted you to go with that was you said, “oh yeah, I used to hang out with Ayn Rand, in the 70s, in New York City.”
Marsha Enright: Well, not exactly. At that point in the 70s, that was in graduate school and she was in her 70s, and some of her associates were running courses (and the Statler-Hilton, where they would always run courses). I went to them, and the thing was she was always there, and you could go up and talk to her whenever you wanted. She had a reputation for being very judgemental. I think people were scared to talk to her.
Scott Hambrick: You don’t say! I’ve got to interrupt you. What courses..like Piekoff’s Introduction to Objectivism and Introduction to Logic?
Marsha Enright: A couple that I went to were, I think it was, History of Philosophy, and Allan Bluementhal did a course on music. I remember those two. I don’t remember if I want to any others. My attitude about her was “my mother yells at me all the time so, so what?” I was just going to go up and talk to her and if she yells at me, oh well. I actually found her to be very lovely, very lovely. I was about twenty-five at the time, she was an eldrly lady (I don’t know how old she thought I was) so I don’t know if I got any extra benefit from the fact that she thought I was a very young person. But she always listened very carefully to what I was asking and gave her best answer. If what I asked wasn’t clear and she was not going the right way I’d say, “no, I mean this…” and she’d stop and she’d change it. I had all kinds of delightful conversations with her, even including about cats and jewelry.
Scott Hambrick: That’s fantastic. There are a lot of accounts of her being kind with questions and very, very patient with questions, as long as somebody was a good-faith questioner. I think that she must have been pretty kind. She has, definitely, the heart of a teacher she spent her whole life trying to make people understand the contents of her mind.
Marsha Enright: You know, the ironic thing is, she gets attacked all the time for her concept of what she called “selfishness” because people misunderstand it or they dissemble about it, that it’s “oh, it’s all about doing whatever you want and it doesn’t matter what it does to other people.” She didn’t mean that at all. The ironic thing about it is if you look at what she did, she devoted her life to making life better for other people. Her characters, like in Atlas Shrugged, they give up their careers in order to try to change the world. It’s really ironic. I have to tell you one thing: she did ask my forgiveness, one time. Do you want to hear the story?
Scott Hambrick: I do want to hear the story, but first I don’t think many people would think that she ever asked for anything.
Marsha Enright: I know, right? But I was just this young girl, I don’t even know if she knew my name, but I was waiting to talk to her husband. I talked to her one time, and she was talking to somebody else and her husband was next to her and I could tell at that point he must have had a stroke at some point because he was what’s called aphaysiac where he could understand what you were saying but he couldn’t respond very easily, talk very easily but it’s very common result of strokes, very common. So, I was making conversation with him and asking him about his painting because he was an artist. And she kept looking over at me, madder and madder, because she was very protective of him at the time and all of a sudden she stopped she says, “Don’t bother him, he’s not an objectivist, he’s my husband.” I knew she didn’t know what we were talking about and I kind of shrugged and walked away.
Scott Hambrick: “Marsha Shrugged.”
Marsha Enright: Exactly. At the next break, she comes over and finds me, and she says to me, (Frank must have straightened her out) and she comes over and finds me and said to me, “Dahling, please forgive me. I didn’t know what you were talking about.”
Scott Hambrick: That paints a different picture of her than most people would believe. It’s so good to hear a first-hand account of someone, that got to hang around with someone like that, no matter what you think of them. If I could hear some Slovo Jijek stories I’d want to hear ‘em, you know?
Marsha Enright: … what they’re like in person. I was telling Karl yesterday, I wish I could have known Aristotle.
Scott Hambrick: I read Introduction To Epistemology and that’s what led me to Aristotle. Is there anything new or novel in that book? It’s just Aristotealian isn’t it?
Marsha Enright: It’s just a couple new ideas that are really important.
Scott Hambrick: Lay it on me.
Marsha Enright: One is the grounding of abstractions, in the idea that what your mind is doing… ok so, the big problem is: how are we coming up with the abstractions when we’re looking at a bunch of concrete things?
Scott Hambrick: This is Plato’s problem with the forms. You see a stool, and a recliner, and a stump that someone sits on and you go “oh, those are chairs.” But yet they’re nothing alike. So that’s the problem with thought.
Marsha Enright: Right, or even if you have three labradors, and they have different sizes, and they have slightly different conformations so, how are you thinking they’re all the same thing: dog. And her answer to that was you are mentally separating the things that are similar between them from the amount from which they are there. So, you’re noticing the shape of the dog but you’re not keeping the exact measurements of the dog. It’s what she calls “measurement omission.” So, this solves the problem how we get from the concrete to the abstract, and that’s not something Aristotle did.
Scott Hambrick: Right, that’s true. She doesn’t explain it, (I don’t think) it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but she makes allowance for our minds sort of filtering irrelevancies like fur color or size and integrate what the things common and definitive about that thing so that she can integrate and make a new concept of it of “dogness.”
Marsha Enright: Right. This has been a power of abstraction that the human mind has and it fuels everything. There’s a new book out called Sapiens, I’m just reading and I’m kind of divided about, but he talks about what he calls the “cognitive revolution” about forty thousand years ago, where all the sudden humans were able to do all kinds of things that they couldn’t do before and clearly this was a point at which abstractions took off, the ability to use them took off.
Scott Hambrick: I’m afraid we may be losing that because people say, “I know a woman who’s taller than men.” …than some men and come on. We were talking about…
Marsha Enright: I want to get back to your reading course though, right?
Scott Hambrick: We were having this conversation about how can we help people overcome their worries, their fears, their insecurities about this reading and give them the confidence that they should do the work verses I could do that. So you’ve created a reading course for us that will be opening up and will be available to the public very soon and probably coincide with the release of this podcast. So, tell us about what you are doing with that thing.
Marsha Enright: Well, what I’m doing is applying Montessori psychological principle to learning how to read and i wanted to go back a little bit to what we do in Monts with the kids which is, that when the materials used with the kids are ingeniously created to be just challenging to be interesting but not so challenging as to be overwhelming.
Scott Hambrick: Right.
Marsha Enright: so that the child can work on this particular aspect of whatever concept they’re trying to learn and not get too frustrated. Well, this is a principle of, I don’t know how many people in the audience have heard about the researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who wrote the book Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience, and one of the main things he discovered is that you get into flow. We know flow, for example, from (a lot of people know flow or “getting in the zone”) athletics. Right? Where you’re really concentrating and you’re performing at your best and you forget about all your worries and concerns, you’re just really focused on the thing that your doing and when you’re done you’re tired but you come out of it with a sense of real enjoyment and accomplishment. And this experience can happen in almost anything depending on the circumstances. He said, “the circumstances are that it’s just challenging to keep your interest but not so challenging as to be overwhelming.”
Scott Hambrick: Right.
Marsha Enright: So, this is the problem with reading, right is that many people (the education they had was not individualized to them so they…) couldn’t go at their own pace to master reading whatever their interests or their difficulties or their strengths were and so they got whatever they could out of it but they didn’t actually master reading.
Scott Hambrick: Yeah, they either get bored and quit or they flounder and quit.
Marsha Enright: Right. Exactly. Both of those. So, what I’ve tried to do in the reading course, figuring that people that are coming to it are the ones who come to it have a problem with reading, (because the ancient texts can be very daunting to try to read them). You’ve got the old language and you’ve got very abstract ideas a lot of times new readers have never even thought about consciously and there’s a lot going on. And then the vocabulary has to be mastered.
Scott Hambrick: I want to interrupt and say we’re not going to teach them phonics. We’re assuming that these are going to be adults and they actually, they’ve got the basic skills, they’ve got the basic stuff for decoding the symbols. The problem is practice, integration, confidence, and these other kinds of third order problems that come up. So, the problems of vocabulary in these things, the problems of the abstractions in these things, the problems that maybe arcane language or weird sentence formations in these old books… that’s the kind of stuff, and the confidence, that’s the kind of stuff you’re trying to tackle here for these people.
Marsha Enright: Exactly. I think almost anybody can read these books if they have certain kinds of skills, if they can develop certain kinds of skills and the other thing is they have to stay interested because I mean you know how well and fast you can learn something if you’re interested in it versus when somebody else tells you, “oh, do this.” That’s the other problem with traditional education is you’re constantly being told “do this” and you aren’t particularly interested in it.
Scott Hambrick: Right.
Marsha Enright: And here’s where the teacher’s job is kind of to seduce the students into seeing why this thing is interesting. I’ve tried to create some classes where I’ll be the guide to certain kinds of materials and we’ll do it in step form so that we’ll start with something that’s really interesting but really short and talk about that and talk about the experience of it and I try to provide tools that the person can use to self-explore and learn where their problems are and maybe come back and say, “well, I need help with this.” And then the other aspect is I’m there to be able to show why it’s so hard to read these texts so that the participants don’t feel like there’s something wrong with them because they have a problem with it. There’s nothing wrong with you if you have difficulty reading these things, they’re hard.
Scott Hambrick: Yeah, if you’ve cracked the book and you’ve gone far enough to realize it’s tough you’re in the 1% or less. Most people won’t even think about even trying it. I tell people all the time that when I read one of these, more important, more difficult texts I’m really lucky if I get 5% of the thing or 8% or something like that. These books have something for everyone at every level and when I read 5 or 8% or however you quantify that I don’t even know, but I don’t get it all. And the next time I read it I might get three or four percent of something differs from it and I have to be kind to myself and allow myself to not get it all and you’re incorporating some of those kind of “Brandean” “Brandeneon” sentence stems to help people learn about why they may have anxiety about it or why they have confidence problems with undertaking the work and hopefully doing that they learn to be kind to themselves as a learner. You know the part of us which is learning shares something with us that was a child at one point and we have to be kind to that part of ourselves like it was a kid. Just like you’re teaching a kid to tie their shoes or learn to ride a bike or anything else and some people have a hard time doing that.
Marsha Enright: Exactly! In the sentence stem work is something that the person does privately and they don’t have to share if they don’t want to. If they want to it’s great because sometimes you can clumb more knowledge out of it by talking about it but if they don’t want to they don’t have to but it could be very useful to themselves anyway.
Scott Hambrick: And the problem that the individual has that they share with themselves with completing the sentence (the sentence stem) probably isn’t unique, they’re probably not the only one that has that problem with it. I talk to people, I actually call quite a few people (I have a V.I.P. waiting list) and I call people after we close enrollment and I say, “help me out, I want to do a better job here, I see that you didn’t sign up, I understand but could you tell me what I could do better to maybe attract you to read with us”, and I get all kinds of feedback. Some of it is “I don’t think I can do it.” And I talk to these people and I ask why and I get stories, I’ve told this one and I’ll tell it again. Someone was very excited about reading Hamlet or something like that and they wrote a ppr that they were prd of and they turned it in and that old cow gave them a “C.” The next thing you know they’re forty years old and they think they can’t do the work. How do you give somebody a “C” on Hamlet? How do you give somebody a “C”? How do you do that? But that damages people or a lot of these stories are and Shakespeare (by the way). We were going to read Julius Caesar.
Marsha Enright: Such a shame to because it’s so fabulous.
Scott Hambrick: It’s terrible. We were reading in my tenth grade whatever and we were going to read Julius Caesar, and we were going to read Romeo and Juliet and I had to read Mercutio and I couldn’t pronounce this word and everybody laughed. And, these people,i t wrecks them forever if they let it. Maybe not if they let it but if they don’t resist it and they don’t actively rewrite that story for themselves about their reading they’re stuck with it and so we hope that we can help people kind of rewrite that and hope they can understand that everybody mispronounces words. By the way, my sister, she says you should never make fun of someone who mispronounces a word because they got it because they read it. If you hear it your going to get it right because the only way your going to get that word is the way it’s commonly spoken and so, we all mispronounced words and if we mispronounce it it’s because we got it through our own independent work. So, that’s a good thing.
Marsha Enright Exactly. Moreover, English is such a crazy car crash of languages that it’s not always easy to figure out how you’re supposed to pronounce this word or that word.
Scott Hambrick: That’s the sound byte.
Marsha Enright: That’s something we’ll talk about in the reading courses: how to understand the various word lines in English to help you understand the words better.
Scott Hambrick: That’s the tagline for the show, Marsha saying, “English is a crazy car crash of languages.”
Marsha Enright: It is!
Scott Hambrick: It is though. You’re reading/confidence building course/skill building is eight weeks?
Marsha Enright: Mmhmm.
Scott Hambrick: We’re going to send people some excerpts for me shirt rdings, I don’t think there’s anything more than two or three pages long, I think most anything would be two or three pgs at the most (I can’t remember) and then meet in a “Zoom” online classroom once a week or every other week I think, isn’t that right?
Marsha Enright: I think so.
Scott Hambrick: And discuss the work that we were doing from the week before, which would be that short selection; it might be a little poem, it mght be something from one of our state documents and it might be some of your sentence stems if you want to. We’ll start building our confidence and skills in doing the reading and we’re going to charge for it and it’s ninety-nine bucks and it’s a one-time fee and you get those eight sessions with high-empathy educator extraordinaire Marsha.
Marsha Enright: Thank you. One thing I wanted to say is I know that a person who would come to the course is very individual and I would apply the mystery of the human being to them. So, I can’t know what they need, all I can do is to provide them with the richest environment and try to give them what they need in this situation.
Scott Hambrick: You’re virtual, you’re their guide.
Marsha Enright: I’m trying to that with young people too in a new program that I’m starting next year. For the last ten years I’ve run a summer program for young people called “The Great Connections.” We’ve decided to expand it into what’s called a “gap year program.” A lot of kids nowadays are questioning whether they should go to college or whether they should do something else; should they start a business or should they go into the trades or arts. So, they are taking a year off after high school to figure that out but most of the years are travel, or learning a language or experiencing other cultures.
Scott Hambrick: Or eating cheetos or playing video games.
Marsha Enright: But their not specifically oriented to building the knowledge and the skills that you need to figure out what to do for the rest of your life. So, that’s what I’ve designed this program to do.
Scott Hambrick: Where do they look into that? I think that, before you give that plug, I think that everyone needs to take a very, very, very serious look at college even if you think that’s the thing you need to do even if you’re set, as a young person, I think they really need to evaluate that carefully. I suspect, I’ll go on the record saying this, I suspect that our society is going to become more and more striated soc and econlla along the lines of college attendance but in a very different way than it had been. In 1945 if you had a four year college degree you were like one of something like 8% of the population and those people had high incomes and for a long time it was a path to economic success. But I think it’s going to invert, I think that education, I think that fifteen years from now a person that graduates from college is very very likely to have a debt burden that cannot be relieved through bankruptcy, there is no jubilee for student burden and they have spent some of the most energetic and formative years of their life obtaining something to be less value. Meanwhile the young person who maybe got a journeyman’s, an electrician’s license and owns all their own tools and has no debt at age twenty-two: the person who gets out of college at that same age can never catch that person economically. And unfortunately economics are tied to our relationships. If you are crushed and destroyed by debt, household and family formation is almost impossible. I think that we’re in danger of people who go to college generally, being put at a great disadvantage and being marginalized in society forever. That probably sounds pretty radical but you can imagine somebody that goes to a state university with some kind of odd art history degree or something like that and you know I’m pro-humanities, right, but some sort of odd degree and a hundred thousand dollars in debt that they can never get rid of. That person has a weight around their neck that the young tradesperson who is debt free and has a high squeal acquisition already isn’t burdened with and I think it has huge political consequences for the world and of course huge individual consequences for the people that get in that situation. So, even if you think you want to go to school there is an economic component to it that cannot be ignored and because of the internet and the way information now moves around there are very few things universities offer that cannot be gotten at lower cost in both time and money. So, pull the hand-brake and cool it for a minute and go join Marsha and see what else is out there and maybe find and alternative to college, or even if you don’t find an alternative to college know why you are going to college and go to it resolute and firm in the knowledge of what your motivation is and I think that’s what your program could help them do. How about that for a soap box?
Marsha Enright: I couldn’t agree with you more about what’s going in college. The prices are a gigantic form of welfare to the universities and the colleges that were caused by the so-called free government loans. One time, to test this, I realized what was going on with college prices back in about 2005 and to test it I looked up what my college should cost today if it were just straight inflation. I want to Northwestern in the 70s and it was a very expensive 3,000 dollars a year tuition. By inflation alone it should be 16,000 dollars a year or it was in 2005. They’re charging about 50,000 right now in tuition and partly because it’s one of the “hot” universities like Yale. but this is true across the board with tuition prices.
Scott Hambrick: That’s right. I went to the University of Oklahoma in the early 90s and it cost me about 2,000 dollars a year: books, and tuition, and lab fees, and so on. I haven’t looked lately but it’s probably on the order of about 25-30,000 dollars a year for those things now at the University of Oklahoma and that ain’t Northwestern.
Marsha Enright: There are two factors and a major factor is that they added all of these administrative positions that they have to support and the fact that they’re non profits mostly and so they don’t have to be as efficient as possible. Think about all the wasted real estate in the summer where it’s hardly used.
Scott Hambrick: The bankruptcy laws and the fact that those debts can be incurred so young. I just recently sold my main business and we’ve been good savers our whole lives, I’m in a very very good position now that I’m forty-four years old but I took advantage of compounding interest very early on; I opened IRA and mutual fund accounts when I was nineteen years old. Being able to sock some money away in your 20s is worth more than socking a lot away in your 60s. And to lose that opportunity because you have to retire student loan debt means there’s going to be a lot of people looking for that Walmart Greeter job when they’re sixty-five and seventy because they had student loan debt in their 20s; makes me sad. But go to onlinegreatbooks.com and click join now and join Marsha’s reading course (it’s going to be a limited number of people) I think we’re going to have twenty-five seats, if you’re not on the V.I.P waiting list you probably won’t get in. There are a bunch of people on that waiting list we’ll give them a “sneak peak” I imagine that will sell out in about eight minutes actually. But we’ll continue to host tht and hopefully help more people get into big books and even if you don’t read ‘em you should go read ‘em yourself and well, read them with our family: start a group at your house because actually reading these books isn’t a solitary activity. I think that reading is one of the few things you can’t do for somebody else, Marsha. You can’t deadlift for somebody else and you can’t read for somebody else. But taking action on the book by discussing it with someone else is when she starts to be changed by the thing. So, go take the reading course, improve those reading skills and start your own damn group everybody, and then send your kids to the gap year thing. Don’t just send them into the maw of the debt-machine and make them futon surfers for the rest of their life.
Marsha Enright: We’re calling ours “The Great Connections Leap Year” because we want to help students “leap” into their future.
Scott Hambrick: I love that. I’ve got a sixteen year old I may end up having to send her to you here in a couple of years.
Marsha Enright: I love that. You know I wanted to say one thing about your analysis of what’s going on with education today and how you can learn almost anything without going to school. It depends on whether you know how to learn and that’s the big rub is to get those skills. You know people denigrate the liberal arts but of course it’s partly because of the way the liberal arts have been taught the last thirty-forty years which is nonsense. In so many places they don’t have you read the greatest thinkers but the liberal arts is the best way to prepare for life because you learn how to think about anything, any subject, and you don’t need an authority to tell you how to come to a conclusion about it.
Scott Hambrick: Right.
Marsha Enright: And then you can go learn anything.
Scott Hambrick: Yeah, we all know what the traditional argument against liberal arts education has been, “well that doesn’t get you a job.” And often times that’s true and as these college prices goes up, up, up the luxury of getting yourself an education from Saint John’s or Amherst or one of these small liberal arts colleges it’s just not in the cards for most normal people. But 150 to 200 years ago, most of that stuff was done really independently. It wasn’t actually done in a university setting and it can still be done that way. This thing that we call education, in North America, what we call traditional education in North America is actually a 150 year old experiment and we’re just now seeing how well it runs. It’s neither traditional nor maybe even education and it’s a social experiment that we’re getting to watch play out for better or worse, right now.
Marsha Enright: You know, if people are interested in history at all, a woman named Kirsten Lombard recruited me to write a chapter for a book she put together called Common Ground On Common Core. She has seventeen wonderful essays in their from all different political perspectives about Common Core and what’s happened with it but she asked me to write one about what education would be like in a free society; a freer society than we have. In this chapter I have a lot of information about the history of education. You’ll love this, so, one of the main prosecutors of public school was a guy named Horace Mann who started it in Boston back in 1832, by 1837 he’s complaining about public education with the same kinds of complaints you hear today: the children don’t learn how to read, and it’s just amazing and so, anybody interested I have it in a chapter.
Scott Hambrick: You know Mann supposedly went to Prussia and came back here and wanted to institute their Prussian public education system. When he went there school was out and he never even saw a classroom in operation at that time.
Marsha Enright: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that but what I do know is that the Prussian system was instituted specifically organized to make people be able to be obedient to the state.
Scott Hambrick: The way I have the story is Napoleon rolled Prussia up twice and they said, “never again,” and they (the Prussian state) undertook an analysis to try to figure out “why” there military was so ineffective and why they were unable to protect themselves from the people’s army and they determined that there people were too independent and there were conscripts, they were tradesmen, they were farmers and they didn’t show up to battles on time and they didn’t show up to battles on time and they weren’t compliant enough. So they instituted this Prussian system where the classrooms were based on platoon sizes, people moved by the bell or the whistle, they stand in line and so it has a heavy compliance and structural component more than an educational component so they call it school and not education. Schooling is very, very different than education. Education can take place in schools but not necessarily so the Prussians undertook that from my understanding was to improve the quality of their military which they needed (like I said Napoleon rolled them up twice) that ain’t good but we then took that institut here and we add a little Taylorism a little time-motion study, industrial analysis of management a kind of stuff to it. And we’ve used this to create a GDP and maybe not human flourishing and maybe not happiness and maybe not well-being. Well, that’s enough of that. That’s an hour, ma’am.
Marsha Enright: It’s been great talking to you.
Scott Hambrick: Yeah, it’s a whole lot of fun, we’re going to get hate mail from this one it’s going to be awesome! Well that is another Online Great Books podcast go to onlinegreatbooks.com and you can go to the top right hand corner and click “join now” if enrollment open you can join and if it ain’t open you can join our little V.I.P. waiting list and if you join the waiting list you can get first crack at these special things we do like Marsha’s reading course or Euclid course or those other little goodies and of course you’ll get a discount code for regular enrollment when we do open enrollment. Thanks so much for listening.