Guiding Principles

1. Treasures of the Tradition has been organized around the principle of active learning — the well-documented idea that people learn best in a hands-on, down-to-business environment that invites the learner to take a role. That sets us apart from online education companies, podcasts, and the like: our primary offerings are not lectures but discussions to which all participants contribute. You might think of it as an opportunity to learn about the liberal arts in an experimental laboratory: ask questions, try out ideas, find out by discussing what sorts of interpretation the text will and will not permit. There will always be a “convener” with expert knowledge helping to steer the experiment, grounding the discussion in historical and other realities that shaped the text under discussion. But he or she will rarely lecture, and never lecture at length: when it does happen it will quickly provide useful information that allows the discussion to resume on a higher level.

We may sometimes make available “streamable” versions of our discussions after they happen, and sometimes streamable lectures on the topics that the discussions cover in a given week; both can be particularly useful in cases where demand for the discussions outstrips the number of seats! But the primary focus remains on the discussions. We aim to offer some of the most interactive and personal educational experiences you can have — and therefore some of the most rewarding.

2. Treasures is committed to exploring texts in depth. That again sets us apart from many educational programs, online and in-person: our offerings are not introductions or overviews, but are opportunities to encounter a text (or a set of short texts) entire, the way their authors would have intended.

That’s not to say that prior knowledge is expected! We aim to present texts in such a way that anyone sufficiently interested can read along and emerge with understanding. Opening up these invaluable texts to as broad an audience as possible is the heart of our mission.

The combination of depth and accessibility means that we take our texts slowly. The groups reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, for example, discuss three cantos — about eleven small pages — most weeks, and occasionally even less. These texts are so rich that samples of that size are much more than adequate to fill our 75-minute discussions. And while they can usually be read relatively quickly, many participants choose to read them more than once in advance of the week’s session. The texts repay it!

3. The desire to open these texts to a broad audience also means that our groups are affordable. We do everything we can to keep costs low, from a home-made website to much unpaid administrative work. The online format means we’re not shelling out for buildings, maintenance, or rental space. And the groups’ conveners are not getting rich either; they’re working for the rewards inherent in discussing great texts with interested people. It all adds up to a university-grade educational experience at a price that’s a tiny fraction of what universities charge.