St. John's College

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St. John's College[1] is a four-year, co-educational, liberal arts college having a curriculum based on the classics, the Socratic method, and oral rather than written examinations.

It is the third oldest college in the nation, founded in 1696 in Annapolis, Maryland as King William's School. It was later chartered in 1784 as St. John's College, and in 1964 a second campus was opened in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Despite its venerable origin, in many ways the present institution dates back to the founding of the "new program" in 1937, after it had come very close to closing in the 1930s.

St. John's does not employ the popular method of University academic structuring, such as providing "majors" and "minors" for students to enroll in. St. John's uses a standardized course list for all students, allowing them to expand their academic horizons beyond the result ordinarily reached when students focus on a particular field.

In an unusual and very pure example of the liberal arts tradition, St. John's curriculum is based on the "great books," with emphasis placed squarely on direct study of original source texts. Students literally learn geometry from Euclid's Elements, physics from Galileo's Two New Sciences, and political science from The Federalist Papers. The works in the reading list[2] are read in their entirety. The instructional environment ensures that students do emerge with an up-to-date understanding of scientific and other topics.

Students learn subjects ranging from music theory to math to philosophy. While many prospective students may initially feel that the lack of academic specialization can hamper entry into various graduate schools (i.e. Medical School), St John's graduates are provided rhetorical and analytical tools that have been empirically shown to land them into prestigious graduate programs.

Despite its name, St. John's College has no religious affiliation.

Educational perennialism and the "Great Books"

The founders of the "new program," Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan, were part of a tradition of "Great Books"-based liberal arts education. Their philosophy is sometimes called "educational perennialism." The group also included Alexander Meiklejohn (founder of a short-lived experimental college at the University of Wisconsin), Robert Maynard Hutchins (who instituted the 1936 "core curriculum" at the University of Chicago), and Mortimer Adler, chairman of the board of directors at the Encyclopædia Britannica and editor of the multivolume Great Books of the Western World.

Notes and references

  1. Not to be confused with several other institutions of higher learning with similar names, such as St. John's University in New York.
  2. Reading list, St. John's college

See also