Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

How to Get a $30,000 Education for $300

classic humanities

It’s no secret the cost of education has surpassed most students’ bank accounts. You’d think the universities were stamping their diplomas on gold for what tuition costs.

And the sad truth is, way too many students are discovering way too late, the only thing their education is good for is an entry-level position and a hefty student loan that will take the rest of their life to pay back.

Now, I’m not against education. I believe in it, strongly.

But I’m tempted at this point to break into my rant about why our education system is broken and why certification is a better idea than the traditional degree. But that’s a lot of words that needs to be saved for another day.

If you want, you can read Charles Murray’s book, Real Education. It’s a helpful treatise on the subject. Instead, I want to tell you how you can get a $30,000.00 education for about (usually less than) $300.



By reading the classics.

Yup, for real!

If you can find someone who graduated high school before WW2 you should ask them about this, I’m confident they would vouch for me.

At the turn of the 20th century, the height of existentialism (which was the child of the enlightenment), the American education system had already begun discarding much of the classic liberal arts of the Western tradition for more modern ideas. By the end of the 1950’s, a classical education in the true sense of the word was all but gone from American public schools.

An interesting read is Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning, first presented at Oxford in 1947.

So, what is a classic?

Samuel Clemens said “a classic is a book which people praise and don’t read.” Isn’t that the truth?

Strictly speaking, ‘the classics’ refers to academic studies in Greek and Latin. But more often than not, people use the expression to refer to “the class of the best,” those books that never lose their currency (via Matthew Arnold).

Remaining ignorant of these treasures is a choice. But none of us have to.

Here’s a challenge.

Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University (1869-1909), claimed one could gain a liberal arts education by reading for 15 minutes a day from a 5-foot book shelf. To prove his point, he went on to edit and publish the 51-volume Harvard Classics series.  In kind was Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler’s 54-Volume Great Books series.

Each offered a slightly different list of classics, but both would take about 10 years to read if one read every day for just 15 minutes.

But you don’t even have to go that far. If you were to read just 15 minutes a day from the list below, or incorporate one or two of these classics into your annual reading list (you do have one of those don’t you?), your understanding of the world would be radically transformed.

Not only would you earn a $30,000-plus education for about $300 dollars,

  • You would understand more about the current state of our political situation than 90% of our politicians—Democrat or Republican.
  • Your creative imagination would be enlarged, making you a wise and well-rounded writer, teacher, minister, artist, and person.
  • You would understand, much better, the culture and framework in which the Bible was penned—and how it has shaped our western culture.
  • You would be engaging in the most amazing conversation in the western world—the 2,500-year-long dialogue known as “The Great Conversation.”
  • You would become more astute in human experience and the human condition.
  • Your friends will think you are a genius, or a wizard, and they’ll seek you out for advice—like Yoda or Gandolf.

Okay so the last one is a little pretentious, but you never know.

There are literally hundreds of books I would like to recommend, but not everything can possibly make the list. So I offer my very own 30-must-read classics for every person who values truth, beauty, and goodness!

By reading these, you’re sure to find your way out of the cave (you’ll have to read from the list to understand the metaphor), and be a better person because of it.

Here it is:

  1. The Holy Bible
  2. The Illiad, Homer
  3. The Republic, Plato
  4. The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
  5. Selected Plays of Aristophanes, Aristophanes
  6. Oedipus the King, Sophocles
  7. The Greek Tragedies, Aeschylus
  8. The Peloponnesian Wars, Thucydides
  9. Confessions, St. Augustine
  10. Politics and Ethics, Aquinas
  11. The Prince, Machiavelli
  12. The Leviathan, Hobbes
  13. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Shakespeare
  14. The Divine Comedy, Dante
  15. Paradise Lost, Milton
  16. The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer
  17. The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan
  18. The Poetry of John Donne, Donne
  19. The Heart of Darkness, Conrad
  20. Frankenstein, Shelley
  21. The Federalist Papers, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay
  22. Democracy in America, Tocqueville
  23. Age of Reason, Paine
  24. Origin of Species, Darwin
  25. Mere Christianity, Lewis
  26. The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne
  27. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe
  28. Great Expectations, Dickens
  29. Collected Works, O’Connor
  30. The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky

I realize that’s a big list (yet so small in light of the vast wealth of book that need to be mined in the world). Share which of these books on this list you’ve read already, and which, if any, are your favorites. What should have made the list, but didn’t?

P.S. If you would be interested in joining an online book club complete with lectures and teaching on how to read, understand, and make use of these masterpieces in your writing, teaching, ministry and everyday life, sign up here.

There’s no obligation to join anything. I’ll just keep you up-to-date on this developing community and share some helpful resources along the journey. Sign up here to stay informed.

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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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2 Replies

  1. Salli

    I’ve read but probably should re-read 11, some of 13, 14, 16, 17 19, 20, 21, 26 & 28. I always have my nose in #1 though I could improve on my dicipline there, and #25 I read about every other year or so as Lewis is my all time favorite author. I also recommend Lewis’ “Abolition of Man” collection of essays regarding education and of course “Screwtape”. Also, I think George Orwell is prophetic.