Rescuing Socrates | Roosevelt Montas Interview | How the Great Books Changed My Life


Roosevelt Montás. A Senior Lecturer at Columbia University. He holds a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. He was Director of the Center for the Core Curriculum at Columbia College from 2008 to 2018. . a renaissance man who loves literature and writing, as well as being the director of Columbia University’s Freedom and Citizenship Program. 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


[00:00:00] Best Book Bits podcast brings you Roosevelt Montes, a senior lecturer at Columbia University. He holds a PhD in English in comparative literature from Columbia University as well. He’s also the director of Center for Core Curriculum at Columbia College from 2008 to 2018. A Renaissance man who loves literature and writing.

As being Director of Climate University’s Freedom and Citizen program, he speaks and writes on. Meaning in the future of liberal education and is the author of Rescuing Socrates, had a great books Change My Life and Why they Matter for a New Generation Roosevelt, thanks for being on the show. Thank you, Michael.

I’m delighted to be here. No worries. Now what A book and a personal story. Now let’s go all the way back to when you and your brother took that first flight, three hours that changed your life. How did your story unfold from. I came from the Dominican Republic to New York. It’s a, as you said, about a three hour plane flight, but oh my God, I might have as well [00:01:00] landed on Mars.

It was of a culture shock. I didn’t speak English. It was also a shock at a kind of developmental level. I grew up in a rural mountain town, and here I was in the middle of new. In the middle of the decade of the eighties, and yeah, you couldn’t speak English and you went in New York.

What was the next steps for you? What did you do then? How did your journey unfold and where did you start? Those were pretty rough years coming in. We, I had come to the stage with my older brother to join our mother who had immigrated a few years earlier. She. Minimum wage job in a garden factory.

She lost that job not long after we came we ended up living in the basement of a, a distant relative. Went to the public, the local public schools. Middle school for me that seventh and eighth grade. My first grade was seventh grade. The local public school was a pretty under resource.

Rough difficult environment. And from there I went into the local high school and that was a [00:02:00] sort of a better situation in that this high school John Bound High School in Flushing, Queens happened to be, at the time, it probably still ranks pretty high up at the time, it was the most diverse high school in New York City.

It is because of its location. It is at the knob of various immigrant communities. So there were a lot of immigrants, a lot of different languages spoken and like me, there was a kind of cohort of immigrant kids that were looking to school as their way out of poverty and marginality.

So my sort of immediate peers, , pretty high achieving and very serious students, and I just followed along and it was that work in high school, that environment that nursed a kind of intellectual orientation that landed me at Columbia where I studied as an undergraduate and where I have been in one way or another ever.

Yeah. Awesome. And what did you, what got you into studying books? What was that and what was the catalyst for education that changed and changed your life for a [00:03:00] better future? Do you remember what sort of kick started the journey on that? There were a couple of really crucial junctures and influences.

One was in high school my first year of high school. I made this relationship with a person who turned out to be a really important, decisive mentor in my life. Somebody who saw me in the hallway reading a philosophy book and engaged me. And he continues to be my friend to this day.

So he was very important in guiding, orienting mentoring me. But influences go back even further than that. The household I grew up in, the Dominican Republic with my father was extremely political. My father was a kind of left wing Marx. Dissident who spent time in jail was an opponent of the right wing regime.

So I grew up thinking, I grew up listening to. Debates and interested in the world of ideas and interested in a world that was larger than my own sort of domestic personal space. So I [00:04:00] think that was a sort of a crucial orientation that I came to the United States with already, and which set me on the path of of scholarship and the life of the.

Yeah. Understood. Yeah, it makes sense. One of the things I found interesting, you had a key passage about how people in the Dominican Republic react to what Americans throw out in the garbage. Can you describe this encounter of cultures and how you found, treasure in someone else’s trash? What book did you find?

Yeah, there’s a, in the Dominican Republic there, there are a lot of people from there in New York and they would go back and talk about this place. , unbelievable affluence where you could just pick stuff from this pick up stuff from the street, TVs, couches appliances and furniture of all kinds.

So I had a, I I had a kind of a habit of always checking out the piles of garbage, and indeed did find a number of interesting things there, the most decisive of which was a pile of books that my neighbors have thrown away. And I fished out two volumes from there that, whose names. Rang a bell.

One was a volume of [00:05:00] Shakespeare and one was a volume by Play-Doh, the dialogues of Play-Doh, that record Socrates’ last days. And that’s the book that I started reading and introduced me to ancient thought to philosophy. I didn’t really know what I was reading, I didn’t know, didn’t really have a conception of what antiquity was or didn’t have a conception of really how far away this man I was reading about was.

But that book. So profoundly transformative for me. And one of the ways in which it was, is that it opened the path to this relationship. I alluded to before. That was the book that teacher saw me reading. He, that teacher is a Greek man himself. And he was just wide-eyed with astonishment that this kid who’s struggling in English is here reading the dialogues of Play-Doh.

So he be, became a mentor and Play-Doh Socrates became a, For the intellectual life, a model for the kinds of questions, the kinds of pursuits that would come to really shape my life and career. Yeah. Excellent. Let’s fast forward to why you wrote the book. So what’s the [00:06:00] book about the Rescue of Socrates and what is the liberal education for the people out there that dunno what liberal education is?

The book is fundamentally. About just that issue. Liberal education. And part of what motivates it is that it is a thing that is so poorly understood. It gets thrown about in public discourse a lot. People sometimes. Think that liberal education means like politically liberal as opposed to conservative.

Like you go to university and you become a com, you become a a left wing activist, and that’s because you’ve got liberal education. But in fact, liberal education goes back way before our kind of political divides, right now it goes back to ancient Greece. And the idea there was what kind of education is appropriate for a free individual?

And a free individual. In the context of Athenian democracy meant a citizen meant somebody who participated in direct democracy in the shaping and govern governance of the society. They made laws, they sat on juries, they made [00:07:00] foreign policy. Every aspect of Athenian city life was determined democratically by debate and deliberation of the free citizens.

So what kind of education are we going to? For individuals to prepare them for this task of collective self-governance. That’s what liberal education is and to this day, that remains the kernel of the idea. What does an individual need to a participate meaningfully? In a collective democratic project of self-governance, and B, what does an individual need personally to organize his or her life in a way that is satisfying, in a way that is productive in a way that LE leads to the fullest?

Human flourishing available to the person. That is what liberal education is about. Yeah, said. And especially we’re in the age of, education information, overwhelmed. And the old saying is to know where we are, we need to know where we’ve been to understand the present. We need to understand the past as well.

In terms of where we come from in the education [00:08:00] philosophy and all the great people, books and stories behind us. We’re at the apex of civilization, but we’ve got a mountain, we live on a mountain of information. And we need to know where that base comes from as well. So the, these great authors in your book, you talk about four of them.

So that’s Saint Augustine Plato, Sigmund Freud, and Mahat Macand. You’ve probably, and Ian asked this a million times, but why these four? I’m sure there’s others, but how did you choose these four individuals and what impact did they have on your. It was actually hard deciding what four authors I wanted to showcase in making the case for liberal education.

So the book wanted to do three things. One was to tell the story of my own intellectual development and how liberal education had shaped my own life. B, talk about the history of liberal education, explain what that was, and three, exemplify the kind of liberal education that I. Through the reading of Great Books.

So finding those four authors was a bit challenging because so many authors have been [00:09:00] important to me and so many authors I think are worthwhile people’s attention. Those four, however, rose to the, to, to the top because for idiosyncratic, sometimes accidental reasons, I happen to read them at decisive, pivotal points in my life and they had an outsized impact in the way that.

Thought about myself in the way that I approached the world. And in retrospect, I realized that part of what accounts for that is that these four authors are people who are utterly devoted to self-exploration that is utterly devoted to understand the inner resources of their own mind and their own.

they’re always looking at the world. They’re all very engaged with the world in politics, in religion, in clinical psychology. So they’re not withdrawn from the world or kind of self-absorbed, but their engagement with the world is always an occasion to look inside, to look deep and to search for a grounding, to search for an understanding, to search [00:10:00] for some kind of clarity, some kind of authentic vision within themselves.

Sort of self-exploration. The search for understanding for self-knowledge is the through line. Of these four, four writers and in some ways a through line for my intellectual trajectory. Yeah. Saint Augustine. What’s the story with him? If people dunno who he is, how he converted to Christianity became a saint of what’s his story and how does it relate to your life?

So the key text that I read is Augustine wrote a lot. He was a major writer in antiquity third, fourth century. He wrote a sort of autobiography called The Confess. . And this is a book in which he looks at his life and his trajectory from the time he was born to his conversion to Christianity, and it’s a sort of intellectual and personal autobiography.

He had made a career as a teacher of rhetoric, now back in, in anti, in, in Rome called the Roman Empire Up. Teacher of rhetoric was [00:11:00] essentially a philosopher, but somebody who thought deeply about the questions of life and taught students how to essentially be free citizens. Both philosophical, ethical, legal, historical studies, but all having to do with language expression, understanding.

So he was a superstar teacher of rhetoric, explor. All of the deep philosophical questions that preoccupied his time and this questioning initiative had led him away from Christianity. His mother was a Christian, but he soon thought that Christianity was foolish and irrational and superstitious and not worth anyone’s time, but he wanted answers to the big questions in life.

So he goes through a series of philosophical religious experiences and little by. He droves closer and closer to Christianity until finally in a kind of dramatic climax scene. He has this experience in a garden, in his house in Milan and becomes converted to Christianity. It is an and Augustine, because he’s a teacher of rhetoric he has at his [00:12:00] disposal.

Extraordinary, expressive, rhetorical. For the project that he’s doing, A comic explaining his life, explaining his own psychology, explaining his own evolution of thought. So we know the inner life of St. Augustine better than we know the life, inner life of any individual in antiquity. And one of the things that strike your reading St.

Augustine, is how modern and contemporary he seems, how so many of the things that he articulates and struggle. Are recognizable to an individual 2000 years later in a different culture, a different time, a different language. There is this powerful sense of recognition when you read Augustine One, one famous line, people know augustin is when he’s struggling to, to become a Christian.

He says, Lord, make me chased, but not yet. So he articulates things that are quite vivid, vividly felt by even contemporary. Yeah, thanks for sharing. And just a side note, liberal humanities was invented at Columbia, is that right? In the thirties, and it was offered to read one classic [00:13:00] book a week, and that was considered a radical thing back in the time.

Can you expand on the history of that with Wich humanities and why it’s really important at Columbia? Yeah, that’s right. So at the turn of the 20th century as Columbia University in the city of New. One of the oldest universities in the country, part of a, kind of a small cohort of very elite institutions.

Columbia, at that point, was undergoing a kind of identity crisis and transformation, and it had to make a decision between being a. Elite school for the traditional cr la creme of society prep school boys or to turn towards the new influx of immigrants that the city represented.

And it made the decision to go urban. So it dropped its Latin requirement, it dropped its Greek requirement and began to organize a curriculum that was meant. absorb and democratize the student body. Now it’s a complex history. Not always not always pretty Colombia, like all of the other elite schools were also worried about having too many Jews and did all kinds of things to exclude and [00:14:00] keep down the number of Jewish students.

But it’s in that, in, in that mix that Columbia creates this course. That it’s, the idea is that students will read in translation at classic every week. So one day you might be reading Roman Classic one day, a Greek classic later an English classic. And this was a radical idea because the part the university was organized then and now around kind of departments.

So you could take an English class and you would just read English literature or a classics class and just take, just read classic classics Greek and Roman Classic. . So this new course was going to be not affiliated with any particular discipl or department. It was gonna be a kind of look at all of the stuff that’s really valuable, we think, for an undergraduate to be exposed to.

It meant it was hard to find teachers who felt comfortable teaching that kind of range of texts. Course was a huge success at Columbia, and in fact it influenced the way that the curriculum in American Higher Education developed so many schools adopted versions of [00:15:00] this model. And for a long time, this was the dominant way in which students encountered the humanities.

it’s no longer the case. Now, Columbia is a kind of an outlier in maintaining that approach to education, the sort of dominance of departments, the dominance, specialization, the reluctance of faculty to teach outside of the specialty has Dom dominates again, the cor the curriculum of American Higher Education.

So it’s very rare. To find a course in which you can do what I did as a first year student at Columbia, which has encountered all these great thinkers, all these great questions in a way that was vital and alive and connected to, not a discipline, but my condition of being a human being. Yeah. One thing you touched on, which is really interesting, I know you’ve touched on this in the past before but we know we’ve got great institutions around the world with universities.

There’s a thirst and a zeal of students that one learns knowledge, but the key element in the middle of this particular is the teacher. How important is it to have [00:16:00] the right teacher? The qualities, what kind of qualities does it take for the right teacher to influence the students as well? Can you expand on that and how important it is to have the right.

Yes, it is. It is in invaluable inestimable the role that a teacher plays. Most people who have had their lives transformed or impacted by education have that ha have had that happen, not because. extraordinary intellectual content that they encountered. But because that content was delivered through a particular vehicle, through a particular channel, through a teacher that somehow ignited their mind and liberal education, unlike other forms of education in the university, is something that happens from person to.

Liberal education happens. I sometimes I say that it happens by contagion. It’s like something that you catch rather than by instruction. A [00:17:00] liberal education teacher is concerned with the full development of the individual. Ask a person. Not as a future lawyer, not as a future banker, not equipping you with the right knowledge to build a bridge or to solve a differential equation.

The subject matter is always secondary. In liberal education, the primary thing is the development of the student, is this kind of unfolding, flowering, flourishing of the students. That happens always in a unique way. There’s no pattern. Every individual is going to be different and the teacher’s.

for the individuality of the student, for the particularity of the student, for the kind of wholesome, full development of the student. That’s what drives liberal education, and it is when you, as a student encounter that, when you encounter somebody who suddenly seems to you to care about you, not just about your mind, that is the, that connection that conduit.

Of really [00:18:00] psychological, emotional af really affection. It’s what it is that becomes the vehicle through which the education gets transmitted and happens. So teaching and teachers are absolutely critical in the project of liberal education. Yeah, and just in education, I they’ve made a good couple movies of it.

Goodwill Hunting, Robin Williamson and Matt Damon. The story of the teacher and the student, and even Dangerous Minds with Michelle Pfeiffer as well. That’s cool. That just shows the power of the teacher who’s engaged and brings out the best in the students as well. What qualities do you see from great professors and teachers that really bring out the best in their students?

One is that they are not trying to reproduce themselves. That is their interest is not in reproducing their specialized knowledge. If they are, a physicist, their interest in you is not to make you a physicist, or there are, if they are a classicist, their interest is not making you a classicist.

Their interest is in equipping you to develop yourself into kind of the best version of yourself. So that kind of prior prioritization of the student, of the subject [00:19:00] is a quality of the teacher. The teacher is also not trying to persuade you to see the world in the way that he or she sees it.

The teacher is trying to, in a way, replace him or herself, does not want you to ape or mimic his thought or her thought, but to develop your own capacity. So there is a a sort of independent and a skepticism that the. Is interested in fostering a teacher is also has to be a, in the context of a classroom, has to be a very good least listener and a kind of a sort of conductor of conversation.

It, there’s a kind of skill involved when you’re running a discussion, where do you push where do you encourage where do you add information? Where do you try to? The topic, when do you encourage minority opinion or when do you add information into the discussion that shifts that kind of reframes what’s being said and all of this happens.

There is no formula. All of this happens spontaneously, and it [00:20:00] is a very , but subtle skill that is required to be that kind of discussion. Leader in a c. Yeah. And it’s not something you could put on a resume or a profile. I think finding the right people for the right job, it’s one of the hardest things in the world.

They call it recruitment or head hunting. But we’ll move on it, it’s another topic in itself, but talking about Sigmund Freud, how did you uncover Sigmund Freud? What got you started? And he talked about, Tara Incognito, finding out that, the world’s full of mysteries and the mysteries and shadows that live in our mind.

How did you uncover that, and what’s the story with Sigma f? Freud has such a bad reputation today, right? So Freud is often when I first introduced Freud to students, the often the first thing I hear is, oh, Freud has been discredited. Freud was wrong about everything. And of course, Freud was wrong about a lot of stuff, and he was very bold.

He would assert pretty hypothetical and pretty speculative things as if they. Undeniable truths. He got a lot of it wrong. [00:21:00] But the big thing that Freud got right was that we are not fully transparent to ourselves. That our knowledge of ourselves is fragmentary, that we hide from ourselves even more than we tell ourselves.

And that to live an authentic and genuine life involves a kind of skepticism and curiosity about yourself. That the mind, your mind is, as you put it, terra and cota, they are vast regions of the mind that are not accessible to you, and that only become accessible through disciplined, dedicated curiosity.

So what Freud did for me was reveal myself, my own mind as an object of study. It has made. Cautious and in some ways humble about my own certainties, about my own motivations about my own accounts of myself. It has made me attentive to my emotional [00:22:00] responses. There the, sometimes there’s an image is used to, to.

Freud’s kind of understanding of the mind of the, as centor this kind of mythical being that has the head of a human being, but the body of a wild horse. And it’s like the head is rational is cognitively developed, abstract. But underneath that is a beast, is an irrational, emotional, chaotic perhaps lutful, perhaps aggressive beast.

And those things live together. So it’s made me, and I think it makes any attentive reader of Freud aware that there’s a lot more going on in your thoughts than you think that there’s a lot more going on in your. Narratives about yourself. In your own understanding of the worlds there are hidden agendas.

You are driven by hidden agendas that you hide from yourself. So the, any effort you can make to clarify those agendas and any progress you make in uncovering those agendas [00:23:00] deepens and enriches your life in in, in just invaluable, priceless. Yeah, I think it’s an interesting fact that you make in the book as well, that when you’re at Columbia, that everyone is on the curriculum, you’re accustomed to everyone being in therapy all the time.

You say that everyone in your class was at therapy and you shared a personal story of yourself. Six years in psychoanalysis. This untangle in the psychic tangles that accumulate in your life. But right now, I meet a lot of authors that talk about shadow work and inner work and, child childhood traumas.

And I think we’ve all very accustomed to now being very open and talking about doing the shadow work as well. We’ve all got tangles and accumulation of the psychic traumas of our paths that make us and shape us to what we are now. Talk to me a little bit about psychoanalysis. Back in the day it was considered a very controversial thing, but now it’s very open.

Do you see any changes in psychoanalysis now? Yeah, psychoanalysis. Yeah. Psychoanalysis is hugely different today than it was. In the kind of Freudian line, although psychoanalysis, that term [00:24:00] continues to be pretty, pretty Freudian. In fact, when people talk about being trained in psychoanalysis or doing psychoanalysis as opposed to therapy that’s a flag that they are in a more Freudian.

cast than regular psychotherapy. So psychoanalysis is a sort of Freudian term, but therapy in general has moved very far away from the thing that Freud theorized cognitive behavioral therapy, castile therapy, group therapy, marriage counseling it’s really exploded, whereas today it is utterly entrusted in the kind.

Mental health, medical establishment. Again, even while Freud is not all of these practices that were opened up by Freud’s talk method and it is I think healthy that people are that has been largely destigmatized. Now, I say largely because it’s, there’s still a long way to go. And there is a socioeconomic marking to it that [00:25:00] is usually people that are more affluent that are more highly educated, that have more resources at the disposal, are much more open to psychotherapy and psychoanalysis than working class.

Less. The non elites. So there is still tremendous stigma among populations that would really profoundly benefit from therapeutic interventions. There’s still a big stick stigma there. So even though it’s much more pervasive and ubiquitous in the culture, it’s still too much localized in a particular sort of socioeconomic.

Yeah, just like anything, the low socioeconomic people, they just don’t have the resources all the time to do it. And the wealthy people have all the resources and all the time to to ru ruminate and think about what they’re thinking about. And definitely go see someone and get help from it as well.

But you just gotta stop thinking about that. Moving on to gti, GTIs, one of my favorites as well, the autobiography, his quest for truth, self realization. He’s looking for moksha and he’s on always on the verge of death a few times. Search for truth meeting wanting to meet God [00:26:00] face to face.

What’s your experience with Gandhi and why is he so important in your life? So Gandhi was a really profound kind of life transformative revelation for me. And I came to Gandhi quite late in my life. That is all of my formal education was done. I had a PhD, I was a professor. And I had cut my teeth in what loosely called the Western tradition, reading the Western classics of literature or philosophy of religion.

But I knew that there was a whole sort of universe of ethical, philosophical thought. That I had no exposure to, and my own appreciation of the Western Classics led me to appreciate the fact that these other classics were really worth my attention. But how did I start? Gandhi emerged as a sort of entry point.

Let me explore Gandhi because I knew enough. You, there’s a great sort of biopic of Gandhi with Ben Kingsley. Yeah. Amazing movie. Amazing movie. Amazing movie, right? So you can [00:27:00] start there and you will grasp immediately that Gandhi is a kind of hinge figure that Gandhi is western educated.

He’s a lawyer barrister trained in England a kind of good English colonial subject for the British Empire. But then he is rooted in this deep and ancient spiritual tradition as an orthodox. . And he is as learned in the Western classics as he is spiritually committed to his Hinduism. So Gandhi became a kind of a figure that through which I entered this whole different ethical universe, this whole different way of understanding spirituality, of understanding politics, of understanding humanity, ethics, justice, truth that we’re.

Quite different than what I had encountered and which were really powerfully enriching. At the time that I started really Gandhi, I had also begun to explore meditation. I had a fledgling practice in Buddhist meditation. So Gandhi also fed [00:28:00] and invigorated, enriched that, that meditation practice.

And it opened up. sort of dimension of spiritual growth for me that has been, continues to be really central. in my life. Yeah. We actually have a similar past, so I’m in between two worlds of Buddhism and Christianity as well. Studied Buddhism for I think 20 years and Christianity as well. think there’s a convergence of truth there.

Truth is truth no matter if you agree with or not. But yeah, talking about. Gti, for example, he’s talking about his life, so it’s an autobiography of his life. These aren’t things that he sat there and he thought about and wrote about. These are things that he actually lived as well. So people, things that he actually experienced and went through.

It’s amazing how teaching, you liberal arts and education in humanities and just the classics, so there’s so much rich knowledge in someone’s life experience that just because we don’t have to experience it, we can still mentally understand the inform. And experienced by reading those rich text and experiences of life as well.

So yeah, great stuff. The classics are classics because they [00:29:00] engage with humanity’s deepest questions. The things that we grapple with, the things that when we wake up in the middle of the night in our kind of solitude cause us awe and wonder and sometimes anxiety. Those are the questions that the classics are concerned.

Probably a good segue to talk about why the classics are under threat as well. So can you talk to me about the challenge liberal education has in the growing emphasis of a higher education on workforce training and what you call transactional and instrumental education, there are two ways in which you can think about education to to understandings of education.

One is equipping you with very concrete and practical. Applicable knowledge. If you study civil engineering, you will learn, about how to manage water systems and maybe how to build bridges and about infrastructure. Very concrete, applicable knowledge. Then there’s another meaning of education that’s that’s [00:30:00] much older, that, sometimes we use it still in English when we talk about somebody.

A child who is educated a child which is it’s cultivated, it’s civilized, it’s mannered. And so that meaning of education has to do with the sort of human development of an individual. And those two meanings of education. HF coexisted in the university for a long time.

One of them is embodied in the research mission of the university and the professionalizing mission of the university, and one of them is embodied in the liberal arts tradition of the university today. The first of those meanings, the research professional applied meaning of education has largely overtaken the univers.

In some ways for good reason. The story of the modern university is the story of the triumph of science. We have unlocked such powerful technologies and such powerful capacities to master nature and to master the world. So there is [00:31:00] no, there’s no challenging the dominance of that way, of that notion of learning, of that notion of knowledge in the.

Yet we are still human beings and we are still caught in basic existential dilemmas that need to, that, that we need to confront rationally, humanely, and which are not examined, instrumentally. They’re not examined for the sake of something else, only for the sake. Greater clarity and engagement with those things themselves.

Beauty, justice happiness love. These are things that we, that constitute our own humanities our own human and which the humanities explore. Now, one thing that I should say is that sometimes those two missions of the university, Placed in a kind of zero sum game where if you go to university, you will either [00:32:00] get a liberal education, which means that you will end up a kind of maybe very refined and articulate and thoughtful individual, but have no skills with which to go get a job.

So a jobless, refined person, or you can go and study something very practical business engineering. computer science, in which case you may be a sort of, maybe not that interesting, a person to talk to, but you’ll be, you’ll have a good job and you’ll be well placed. Economically. These two should not, must not be offered as alternatives.

. The argument I make in the book and the, and the sort of institutional advocacy that I engage in is in embedding liberal education in all of the professional degrees. You want to be an engineer, but that engineering. Knowledge and skills should emerge from a liberal foundation in which you explore questions of humanity, questions that matter to you, whether you’re an engineer or a banker, or a computer programmer, if you [00:33:00] want to be a banker or a business person.

Similarly, that education should be rooted in a humanistic education. My, my sort of educational activism has to do with embedding the liberal. Education inside as the foundation of all of the degrees and all of the profess. Yeah, said. And what comes to mind? My mind as well, it’s you can’t be too strong on one hemisphere of the brain.

So for example people are chasing fame, people have fame, spend a lot of money on privacy. And then there’s people that want a lot of fame, that spend a lot of time to try to get that money, but they don’t understand that. What comes with that is, Fame and then no privacy. So it’s two extremes.

What I was really trying to basically say is people get outta balance. So getting back to what you’re talking about with education, you could be a triple PhD, broke no job, or you could have a great job with really no understanding of the foundational stuff in terms of, liberal education.

So what I really wanna say is what I was getting around to is the best students are the [00:34:00] lifelong learners that understand that education doesn’t stop. When you stop paying for an education at university or when you get a. Or when you have kids and have family, the greatest thinkers and teachers of the world are people like yourself and me who just have a thirst for knowledge and their continuous lifelong learners and understand that, you don’t have to have all the answers.

That’s number one. So drop dropping the ego and forced an education on people because their parents paid for it. You got a university with paid tuition, you gotta do this, you gotta do that, and you’re forced into learning. . And then when you get out, you realize that they don’t have to learn anymore.

And that’s really sad as well. Coming back to a society that doesn’t value continuous, lifelong learning, and even people getting into jobs where they’re, their knowledge is not valued. It’s literally just like a robot, do this job, hit that target. Come to work that time, leave then.

And then we don’t care about your classics, liberal arts guarantee, Sigmund Freud, whatever it is. Just be quiet. Just go sit in the corner. So that’s society, that’s culture that’s environment. But you know how important it is to teach [00:35:00] students to become, lifelong learners and give them a thirst for knowledge, not just give them the whole meal at university.

What’s your philosophy on that and how do you communicate that with students? That their time at university will end, but their education will not. I think you raise a really important set of issues and I, it’s something that I’d like people to who are listening to this, to walk away with away with.

So one thing I often tell my students on the first day of class is at the end of the semester, after we’ve spent, 15 weeks reading classics and grappling with philosophical debates and deep questions of humanity, I’m gonna give you a grade because I have to. If I were being really honest, the grade that I should give you is an incomplete and 20 years from now when you come for your alumni reunion, in this scenario, I’m still alive.

And to get with it in 20 years, we can have a conversation about what ha, how what happened in this classroom fed into the kind of life that you lived. And at that point [00:36:00] I might be able to give you a grade. At that point, I might be able to assess whether. benefited whether you got what I am trying to achieve in this class.

That is what liberal education does. Is it reorients you. There’s a line in Plato where Plato says, education isn’t what people think it is like putting knowledge into source that lack it. Education really assumes that people have division, have the site, but they’re not looking in the right.

And what education does it does is it turns them around and gets them to look in the right direction. That’s what liberal education does, and that raises this point, which is really, I want people to you, your listeners, to walk away with that liberal education is not something that needs to happen in a classroom.

While if you are going to have a university, education, university ought to, needs to make that central to the education. Really, this kind of education is something that you can pursue and should pursue wherever you are. Get together with friends. Read a good book, have a glass of wine and talk about it.

Have [00:37:00] a meal and talk about it. Look at a political debate and talk about it. Not in the partisan way, but a little bit above the fray. Look at a. Go to a park engage in the kind of reflection, open and honest inquiry and conversation with others who are different from you. That tries to get at the root, at the kernel, at the essence of your experience.

That is a liberal education, and that is something that is within the reach of all of us, and which we should all. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And one final thing that people don’t realize is how powerful tool, Facebook groups are, you could join a Facebook group on liberal arts, you could join a Facebook group on anything.

I just joined a Facebook group on, I met a lady and she does nlp. So I joined the NLP group. And you know what, you could jump on a YouTube channel. You can in interview amazing authors like yourself, Roosevelt, and talk deeply about a book. So you’ve got no excuse now, but you’ve just gotta get around those new.

And they change as well. So one click of a button and you could be in a new environment and start having new conversations as well. Spark [00:38:00] some curiosity and new thoughts as well. But one last question I wanna talk about and expand your experiences on is liberal arts across the world.

You, you’ve taught and in different countries like Latin America, China, and Israel as well advised. What’s your experience like there and how is it different from, the liberal arts in America? What experiences can you. It’s a very curious thing that is happening that while in America liberal arts is on the defensive and contracting in the rest of the world, it is actually in the offensive and expanding.

And part of what accounts for that is that people in China and Latin America in Asia are looking at the US and see their the most powerful and the most successful higher education. . And, why is that, why is it that America produces such innovative culture, such kind of a culture of invention?

How why are there so many Nobel prices? Why is there so much creativity? And one of the things that is beginning to dawn on on, on the rest of the [00:39:00] world is that the key to the Amer, to the success of the American Higher education system is its liberal arts. is the fact that in America, every bachelor’s degree contains a good hefty amount of courses that are not in your special, in specialization, that are not in your major.

That for the most part you become a professional. By going beyond your bachelor’s degree into graduate school, become a doctor in graduate school, a lawyer in graduate school, a businessman or woman, a journalist an architect. These specializations come in the postgraduate with a non professionalizing emphasis in the first four years of college.

And I think people are waking up to the fact that this broad foundation in humanistic learning actually is the key to the innovation. To the business success, to the technology, to the scientific breakthroughs that it is in fact the opening into those things. By grounding people in things that are not meant to be [00:40:00] applied or are not meant to be sort of money making.

Yeah. They’re foundational. These things are foundational. It’s they’re learning cooking. It’s foundational. You know what I mean? People don’t learn how to cook. They’ll eat shit food for the rest of their life. But people understand nutrition and, you can go on and on.

But Roosevelt, where can people find more about yourself? Where do you spend time online and where can people find the book and connect with you as well? Thank you. There’s a lot of stuff on YouTube and a lot of podcasts. And of course, faculty page on the Columbia website. You can get basic information.

What to find me. You can follow me on Twitter at Roosevelt montas or find me on Instagram and Facebook also. Same, my, my first name and last name is my handle. And the book, rescuing Socrates is published by Princeton University Press. It’s available at the presses website and of course at Amazon and other online and physical book.

Yeah. Thank you so much. And I just wanna congratulate you on your book and all the work you’ve done so far and all the work you’re gonna be doing as well. So yeah, I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you. Congrats. And keep going. Will there be more books coming from you in the [00:41:00] future?

Thank you Michael. There will be more books for me in the future. I’m beginning to work on a book on American political culture and what it means to be American and what. underlying ideas in the American National Project. So expect that out in a few years. Cause I’ve just started.

Alright, I’ll sit tight and I’ll wait patiently. But yeah, thanks for being a guest on the Best Book Bits podcast. And to my audience out there, go follow Roosevelt, check out his books, he’s amazing. Get stuck into the liberal arts, humanities, the classics, and start educating yourself because it’s never too late to learn.

It doesn’t matter what age you are at your mind’s always ready for new stimuli information. So give it that stimulus. But I’ll let you get on with the rest of the day. So yeah, thanks for being a guest on the show

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