Classical Preparatory School
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Jefferson's Library

“It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books.  You may not appreciate them at first…and then suddenly, on a day which marks an epoch in your life, you see…how the one stands for nothing and the other for literature.” - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Thomas Jefferson compiled three libraries over his lifetime – the earliest one, assembled during his youth and early career, was damaged by fire and the second was sold to replace the Library of Congress after it was destroyed during the War of 1812.  From the sale of the second library in 1815 until his death in 1823, he began assembling another large library – because, as he said, he could not live without books.

These were no haphazard collections.  They were carefully divided up into Francis Bacon’s three divisions of knowledge: Philosophy, History, and Fine Arts, with numerous subsections within these.  To Jefferson, not all books were equal, and his collection of books was considered the finest in the nation.

Through his exposure to the great thoughts of the past, Jefferson accumulated a vast amount of knowledge that he then used as a basis to make his own stamp upon history.  At Classical Prep, we want our students to have their own arsenal of the greatest thoughts of mankind.  At the end of each school year, we will provide the opportunity for parents to buy the books students read in their literature courses so that by the time they graduate, they will have their own library of time-honored classics.  We want them to have a treasure trove of literature, not because they will fully comprehend its value now – but because there will come a time when they realize that what they found between those pages was not just a great story or an entertaining thought– it actually contained ideas that can lift them above the confusion of the momentary into a larger perspective.

In our common humanity, the simple and complex truths that exist in all great literature wait to be discovered.  In The Odyssey, the hero faces challenges that have become synonymous with daily problems people face today: the sirens with their beautiful songs leading to deadly results or the six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charbydis between which Odysseus must row.  In The Yearling, the hero remembers childhood moments of piercing beauty and comes to an understanding of his father’s efforts to protect him from the realities of life.  These books touch a place in our hearts no matter what age, their truth only growing more evident as we mature.

A new group of studies has emerged this year indicating that reading on digital devices rather than long-form texts negatively impacts both the “cognitive and emotional aspects of reading.”  These studies conclude that there is something about the physical pages of a book that enhance the reading experience: “the tactile sense of progress…the fixity of a text…the gradual unfolding of paper.”

If this is the case, what might be the cognitive effects upon rereading a book?  There is something about an old, familiar book -- the pages of which have been marked up at an earlier time -- that reminds a reader of the person they were when the words on the page were perhaps not yet fully understood.   Their value and power to move us becomes more evident as we grow older, as the ideas become part of the fabric of who we are and how we explain the world.

Jefferson loved books because he knew their power to affect change.  Great literature can rescue from the tyranny of shallow thoughts and a focus on the trivial.  It allows anyone to access some of the most complex and beautiful thoughts of mankind, challenging the reader to see more in themselves and the world then before. Of all the things one can buy for a child, none will last as long or have as profound an effect as a great book.

Anne Corcoran, Founder

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