There is no reason not to do so if all you wish to have your student do is read books, without study guides, or listen to the lectures-which amounts to the same thing. You could no doubt reduce education costs that way. However, the higher costs are primarily for faculty moderators, mentors, tutors, graders and monthly progress report and transcript administration. If you also desire your student to be part of an academic community of faculty and students expert in the various fields involved, a radically independent approach will not provide what our faculty moderators, tutors and mentors, graders and administrators provide. The Great Honors Program includes teaching, leading and modeling Socratic discussions, answering questions (and posing interesting ones), correcting and defanging errors, helping to overcome various intellectual stumbling blocks, assessing monthly progress, suggesting insights and openly recognizing new ones, instruction in the dialectical approach to learning and discourse, offering encouragement, guidance, study advice and support, and so on. If all or some of that is very important to you or for your student-as we believe it to be-then merely reading books or passively viewing some lectures simply will not suffice.
Similarly, the interaction with fellow Honors students, particularly in the 2-hour, Great Books weekly classes who are engaged in the same intellectual adventures, at the same time, is a priceless experience, that not only enriches the experiences and discussions, but often results in life-long friendships with fellow students who have read and discussed the same great books and lectures, and shared the impact of those books and courses with each other, often over a period of four years. Imagine what a treasure that would be in anyone’s life-the opportunity to share such a rich intellectual journey with fellow students, for up to four years.
Mortimer Adler never tired of reminding his students “Aristotle believes ‘reading alone is as bad as drinking alone.’ That is because Aristotle believes ‘life in common is…knowledge in common.’ Aristotle also suggests that conversations among equals [eg. fellow students, moderators and tutors in Socratic discussions], can be profound learning experiences, because in pleasant settings with friends or friendly equals, we are willing to share our insights, take intellectual risks, and try out ideas, whether fully baked or not. Hence such friends are necessary for the life of the mind because they act as sounding boards and critics of our bright ideas. That is why our best friends will be our equals, people who are not reluctant to tell us where we are all wet or when we’re slightly damp. In this regard, Aristotle says we see ourselves most clearly through the eyes of others. ‘We can contemplate our neighbors better than ourselves, and their actions better than our own.’ So the happy person needs to be conscious of the existence of his friends, and ‘this will come about through … sharing in discussion and thought.’