Academic and author Roosevelt Montás gave a lecture on the value of liberal education and classic literature, sponsored by the IUP Big Ideas program.
The lecture took place March 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Gorell Hall. Opening remarks were made by IUP professor and Big Ideas director Dr. Lynn Botelho and IUP President Michael Driscoll. After the initial comments from Botelho and Driscoll, Montás began the lecture. Montás told audience members about his background, including his upbringing in the Dominican Republic, until eventually heading to New York with his parents.
During his New York education, Montás was exposed to what he called the “Great Books.”
“The fact is, that, there are too many 'Great Books,'" Montás said. “There are more ‘Great Books’ than any one person can read.”
These “Great Books” he described were classic pieces of literature with timeless value and depth, such as the works of Dante and Homer.
“The latest war novel,” he said, “is not superior to ‘the Iliad.’”
In addition to discussing the “Great Books,” Montás focused on the value of liberal education, what it offers to a potential student and what the duty of an educator is.
“You don’t just end up with more knowledge,” he said, regarding liberal education, “you end up with a different configuration of knowledge.”
“Liberal knowledge, in other words, alters the internal proportions of your soul.”
Montás cited the value of liberal education with one anecdotal example, that of classic American writer, abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass. He read some of Douglass’ autobiographical experiences, during the beginning of his education. Douglass realized that literacy and education are the defining differences that white slaveowners use to oppress and separate themselves from their slaves.
Douglass’ slaveowner said that education was dangerous for the slave and slaveowner. It would forever make a slave unfit to be a slave, unhappy to serve and seeking more from life. Montás extrapolates this story to connect to what he likens as modern slaveries and subjugations, such as unfair working conditions.
Montás argued that the duty of education and universities is not merely to prepare students for “selling a part of (your) humanity for wages,” but is instead to additionally promote human excellence, critical thinking and democratic discussion.
Montás’ lecture made apparent connections to his recent book, Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation. It additionally touched on similar themes to IUP’s own Big Ideas program.
“IUP has a program called Big Ideas,” Bothelho said, and the spark behind that (program) is Roosevelt Montás.”
Montás taught a class for the Big Ideas program, in addition to his lecture on-campus.
“Our Big Ideas Transformative Text certificate is 16 credits,” Bothelho said, “and it’s designed for pre-professional students, but open to anyone.”
“It’s designed to give students more of those humanities and liberal studies enhancement.”
Many students from the Big Ideas program attended the lecture, out of personal interest or for the offer of bonus points for attending. Noah Predko (freshman, undeclared), a student in the Big Ideas program, attended the lecture. Predko was offered “extra credit” in two his classes, including “Big Ideas 1.”
Predko found the lecture interesting, and likened it to the Big Ideas program he is a student in. His class focuses on reflection and themes, especially ethical and moral, as well as both discussion and essay writing.
Predko described the night’s lecture as an event promoting the ideas and value of liberal education, liberal studies, and literature.
“College is not just about getting a practical education for a career,” Predko said, “but also to help people as humans… or something like that.”
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