St. John’s students read and explore a common body of timeless works–including many of the most important books in history–in close partnership with their classmates and teachers. The college’s coeducational community, free of religious affiliation, takes an open-minded approach to ideas of all kinds. Rather than being told how and what to think about what they’re reading, St. John’s students are asked to reach their own conclusions through deep thinking, critical analysis, and intense discussion.
The program encourages students to explore fundamental questions while developing habits of mind that will prepare them for success in whatever they choose to pursue.
There are no majors at St. John’s. Rather, students pursue a course of study that spans all disciplines. From philosophy to the sciences to literature to music, St. John’s students encounter works that are timeless, and therefore timely–works that have stood the test of history and have something to say about the world today.
All students read the same texts, learn the same languages, and perform the same laboratory experiments. This exposure to a common set of intellectual experiences provides a shared vocabulary and a shared set of references, creating a rich, intimate, and highly interactive community.
All classes at St. John’s are discussion-driven. Through active participation in class discussion, students learn to articulate their own thoughts, to listen carefully to those of others, and to engage in cooperative inquiry. The heart of the St. John’s experience is the seminar, in which a small group of students and two faculty members wrestle together with important and difficult texts, without agenda or lesson plan. Rather, students set the course of the discussion and tutors act as guides and fellow questioners.
In four years of mathematics and language tutorials, three years of laboratory, and two years of music, students practice the liberal arts of translation, demonstration, experimentation, musical analysis, and writing.
Common to all classroom experiences at St. John’s is a seriousness about ideas and an abiding respect for the opinions of others. The resulting environment is a safe place for taking intellectual risks—a necessary precondition for genuine learning.
Even though most St. John’s faculty members hold a doctorate in a particular field, they are called “tutors” rather than professors. They don’t lecture or “profess,” but instead guide students through an unscripted process of reflection and discovery. Rather than confine themselves to a specific subject or discipline, tutors teach courses across the St. John’s program. This approach has the effect of making students and tutors fellow learners. Rather than being “experts” who bestow knowledge, tutors labor alongside their students to comprehend and analyze a given text or problem.
St. John’s tutors focus on their students rather than on research or publishing. They are almost always available to expand on a class discussion, go over a paper, or discuss something completely unrelated to class. Tutors are deeply committed to the St. John’s approach to liberal education and want to help students engage in it fully.
Hometown: St. Louis Park, Minnesota
Extracurriculars: Student Government, Project Polity community volunteering club
Plans:Join the Peace Corps after graduation. Work in public service.
What is the St. John’s program? One of the main things that initially drew me to St. John’s was the political element of the curriculum. We explore the same texts that were read by, and inspired, many of our nation’s founders and greatest leaders: the U.S. Constitution, speeches by Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, selections from The Federalist Papers, and many others. I’m interested in going into politics, so that’s really important to me. The Program requires you to be brave, be willing to go outside your comfort zone, and dig down to basics. This is exciting. For example, Junior Lab is a class that I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy because it deals with physics, but it’s probably been my favorite.
At St. John’s, we learn socially, and we work through the books together, mingling among the Western world’s great ideas and coming to ideas and decisions for ourselves. I love that feeling when your heart quickens when you discover something for yourself.
We learn to discuss imaginatively, write clearly, read closely, and question boldly. To paraphrase Scott Buchanan, co-founder of the New Program, if one were to ask, “What are these books written about?” I would respond, “They were written about you!”