If the seminar’s realm is that of spontaneous, free-ranging
inquiry—the shaping of thought and arrival at arguments through
dialogue—the St. John’s tutorial inhabits the territory of focused,
step-by-step analysis. In these discussion-based classes, students
consider a relatively brief text—a mathematical proof, a piece
of music, or a poem, for example—rather than an extended work.
In the leisurely and exacting process of taking such texts apart
and putting them together again, much is accomplished to support
and extend the work of seminar.
Tutorials in languages and math meet three times each week
for all of a student’s four years at St. John’s. Music tutorial meets
three times a week in sophomore year; as freshmen, students begin
their music study through once-a-week meetings for singing and
learning the elements. In all tutorials, the objective is not primarily
to impart a body of information or cultivate technical expertise,
but to prepare students to interpret the world by exploring the
various modes of representing it. As they demonstrate a proposi-
tion, consider how a musical score communicates, or translate
from another language, students cultivate habits of close examina-
tion, accurate formulation, and precise communication—lifelong
skills for any future path.
How do we
Do tutorials involve anywriting?
In addition to articulating their thoughts through classroom conversation, students
are called upon in all tutorials to express their ideas in writing. Even in mathematics,
music, and laboratory, students find considerable opportunities for extended written
reflection on substantive questions. Writing assignments not only help to clarify and
demonstrate understanding; they also push students to investigate their own
assumptions and express well-considered positions.