Magazine article Humanities

Making a Difference: Plato in Action

Magazine article Humanities

Making a Difference: Plato in Action

Article excerpt

Writer Earl Shorris believes that understanding the words of Socrates and Plato helps the poor and uneducated more than learning the skills of a technical job. And he is one of those rare people who puts beliefs into action. In 1995 Shorris created a program of study known as the Clemente Course to bring the humanities to residents of impoverished inner-city neighborhoods.

"The humanities have great appeal to give people a sense of self, to see the world and themselves differently in the Greek sense of reflective thinking, of autonomy," he says. "People who know the humanities become good citizens, become active, not acted upon."

The Clemente Course is named after the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in lower Manhattan, where the first classes were held. Shorris got the idea for the course while researching his book on poverty, New American Blues: A Journey to Democracy, which led him to travel the country and visit some of its poorest areas. On a visit to a women's prison, Shorris met an inmate named Viniece Walker, who told him the poor needed "a moral alternative to the street." Her words struck a chord with Shorris. He set about creating an academic course of study in the humanities that would give the poor skills to deal more effectively with society at large. …

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