Eva Marie Hayne writes about the Great Books experience at Saint John’s College. It’s all the difference between liberal education and Liberal indoctrination. Perhaps our institutions could learn something from this model?
Unlike other graduate programs in the liberal arts, the St. John’s Graduate Institute has a set curriculum rather than a changing menu of elective courses, requiring that all students work through—and tutors teach—almost all of the same texts in philosophy, theology, literature, politics, mathematics, science, and history. After four semesters, these busy working students have read the likes of Homer, Aristotle, Euclid, Aquinas, Bacon, Rousseau, and Eliot.
This curriculum is the main reason why the graduate students are at St. John’s. Why? Because these students desire a truly literate intellectual life, characterized by an ongoing engagement with challenging books that grant them access to our great tradition of thought and imagination. The fixed curriculum ensures that they will have to read books (and poems) that have been tested by time and carefully chosen as representatives of that tradition. They don’t want an education that caters to their interests; they desire an education that shapes them.