Sunday, April 25, 2010

Great Books Colleges

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I just returned from my first visit to a "Great Books" college ie. St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. "Johnnies" follow quite a demanding curriculum that includes studying Greek and translating original texts. They study many great authors of the Western tradition both at the Annapolis Campus and at the Santa Fe campus. The students seemed very engaged in their study and none of those that I spoke to wanted to go to college anywhere else. There is not enough room in the curriculum to study any non-western traditions but you can follow a "great books" non-western curriculum as a graduate program on the Santa Fe campus. All classes involve discussion and discovery. The tutors or faculty are more facilitators than lecturers. This distinctive curriculum was developed by Scott Buchanon in the 1930's as a way to distinguish the college and boost enrollment.

This new curriculum was also related to the Hutchins Plan developed at the University of Chicago and currently followed by Shimer College in Waukegan, IL. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA also offers a four year "great books" education.

As you can imagine, there are few transfers in or out of this program because it is so unusual. The fact that students are following a common curriculum has a positive effect on course discussion because everyone has taken the same sequence. This approach seems to foster more philosophical discussions over dinner than I have heard at other colleges

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