The academic program at St. John’s College is unique. In its content and method of delivery, the program provides an academic experience unlike any other. Within a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary curriculum, students focus on foundational works of philosophy, literature, history, political science, theology, economics, music, mathematics, and the laboratory sciences. All classes are small (14 to 20 students), conducted as conversational seminars with students assuming a leadership role in the discussion. Your voice, your ideas and your opinions will be heard, and you will help to shape the conversation.
St. John’s faculty members are tutors, not professors, and the distinction is important. The term professor implies the presence of an expert who professes his or her wisdom to the class. There is certainly a place for expert analysis and direction, but at St. John’s tutors serve more as guides and mentors. They share in your learning, they guide you through various aspects of the curriculum, and they share their understanding when it is needed to further classroom conversation. Often, they skillfully pose the right question at the right time for students to consider. Tutors teach across the curriculum. An individual with a Ph.D. in mathematics might serve as a tutor in a language class. Similarly, a theologian might serve as a tutor in a laboratory class.
The dynamic this creates in the classroom is important. Tutors share in your learning in a very real way, and the academic playing field is somewhat leveled. Students often note that the experience they have learning with their tutors is inspiring, humbling and altogether unique. At St. John’s it is also fair to say that you will be as important to the discussion as anyone in the room. Seated around tables where tutors and students occupy equal positions, the classroom environment is one that encourages discussion, requires preparation and treats all opinions, ideas and beliefs with respect, dignity and value.
The program at St. John’s is not about learning facts, it is not about studying to master material for a test, it is not about completing a worksheet, and it is not about reading books simply because you are told to do so. It is about working through the topics, issues and matters that have been the subject of human inquiry since the dawn of Western civilization. It is about reflecting on timeless ideas, questions and subjects. It is about reflecting on the past in an effort to build the future. It is about personal development. You will reflect on matters of equality, ethics, love, free will, scientific development, and more. The experience does not end when the bell rings. Students and tutors work as much outside the traditional classroom setting and they do within class.
As you progress through the four-year program, your mind will be sharpened and your person will be changed. You will likely find it is not a single book, class or tutor that causes this transformation. Rather, it is the four-year program continually challenging you to ask, consider and answer life’s most difficult questions that makes the ultimate impact. Over the course of your time at St. John’s, you may find yourself on an ancient battlefield, in a discussion with Socrates, within the lines of a tragedy or comedy, on the pages of the Iliad or in the midst of a milestone Supreme Court decision. When you learn to approach the curriculum with a level of commitment that places you within the circumstance under study, you will find that the books and readings speak to you, personally. They are about you, and they will challenge you to define who you are, what you believe and how you will contribute to the greater human good.
The curriculum will challenge your beliefs, ask you to contemplate difficult decisions, and help you consider life’s most important questions. Through this process, you will learn facts, you will learn the opinions of others, and you will become well-educated. Most importantly, however, you will become you. Your personal beliefs and sense of purpose will develop at St. John’s. When you graduate, you will be prepared to do anything you want. Your mind will be sharp and you will be comfortable in your own skin because you have grappled with the most difficult concepts of the human experience.