Now more than a year into steering an international boarding school through a pandemic, TASIS Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff, who taught an elective seminar based on Mortimer Adler’s Six Great Ideas when he led the prestigious Harker School in the United States from 2005–2017, is thrilled to be back in the classroom this month.
Mr. Nikoloff continued a tradition he started last year by conducting five lessons on virtue ethics for IB students in their Theory of Knowledge (TOK) classes earlier this month, and he is now midway through a four-part seminar centered on the philosophical structures behind the ideas of truth, goodness, and beauty.
“It is an honor for me to teach again,” said Mr. Nikoloff, who is delivering the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty Seminar to every student in grade 10, amounting to 32 classes over the course of four weeks. “As an administrator, I have always tried to carry some teaching duties. I truly enjoy getting to know the students better, and I also learn more about what a typical day is like for our teachers—especially in this age of hybrid instruction.”
Now in his fourth year at TASIS, Mr. Nikoloff launched the seminar so that, over time, all TASIS students will graduate with an appreciation for the concepts of truth, goodness, and beauty and the traditions they represent. The seminar can also be viewed as an introduction to philosophy and philosophical thinking. “I am very passionate about philosophy and thinking skills, so it is a great pleasure to share this passion with our students,” he said.
Why truth, goodness, and beauty? Verum, Bonum, Pulchrum (or Truth, Goodness, Beauty) is the TASIS motto and was added to the School’s crest in early 2020. These three words, which are also prominently displayed on the façade of the M. Crist Fleming Library, have inspired Western educators since the time of Plato, who recognized them as fundamental values by which anything can be exhaustively judged.
These supreme ideals also apply to the specific dimensions of human existence—Truth to thought and logic, Goodness to action and morals, and Beauty to enjoyment and aesthetics—that are emphasized in the TASIS Mission Statement, which notes that each TASIS school seeks to balance the pursuit of knowledge with the love of wisdom while promoting the skills of lifelong learning, an appreciation for beauty, and the development of character.
One of the main goals of the seminar is to teach students how to think rather than what to think. “Exploring ‘What is truth’ is different from exploring ‘What is true,’ with the latter depending upon a clear understanding of the former,” explained Mr. Nikoloff, who earned a B.A. in English and Philosophy (magna cum laude) and an M.A.T. in Education and English Literature (summa cum laude) from Boston University before later completing an MBA at Santa Clara University. “Similarly, exploring what is goodness and beauty is different from concluding what is good and beautiful.”
A natural teacher, Mr. Nikoloff combines the timeless Socratic method—a teaching style based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking—with modern technology, drawing upon engaging visual presentations to help students wrap their heads around a number of topics related to truth, goodness, and beauty.
The four-part seminar follows this outline:
Week One: Introduction
As the seminar progresses, Mr. Nikoloff encourages students to examine how these ideas relate to events in their own lives—an approach that takes time to master. “The hope is that our students will eventually be able to apply these philosophical concepts to real-life situations,” he said. “But the primary focus of these sessions is to first help them understand the structure of the concepts.”
Mr. Nikoloff ultimately hopes to establish a framework in which he delivers his lecture on virtue ethics to every freshman at TASIS as a precursor to the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty Seminar, which he will continue to conduct for all sophomores. “It is my hope that all TASIS students will have this foundation before beginning the advanced coursework that will mark their final two years of high school,” he said.