Change the world—and for the better!

At thousands of college graduation ceremonies this May and June, commencement speakers will be exhorting graduates to “Go forth and change the world” or “Go forth and make a difference.” The commencement speaker at graduation in Santa Fe last week, long-time tutor Eva Brann, decided to subject those sentiments to scrutiny—and, in the process, explain just how St. John’s prepares...
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Learn to Change and Practice Changing Often

One institution that remains venerable—even nowadays, when we hear so much about the deterioration of respect for established institutions—is the college commencement address. Noteworthy commencement speeches become very popular, primarily because they convey messages of hope, encouragement, inspiration, and wisdom. At the 224th commencement of St. John’s in Annapolis last Sunday, the commencement speaker was long-time tutor Thomas May, whose...
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Reading Immersion: The Antidote to Soul-Crushing Education

In my last post, What Makes a Book Life-Changing, I wrote about how seniors at St. John’s choose to write senior essays on books that are likely to change their lives. Finding this kind of inspiration in books seems to be less and less frequent among the pre-college crowd. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, David Denby noted the trend away...
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What Makes a Book Life-Changing?

By tackling great books directly—not through the mediation of teachers and lecturers who have predigested them for us—we learn what really matters to us. This is one of the premises behind the St. John’s curriculum—more about that a little later. But first here’s an example from another school. One of the most popular courses at Harvard these days is “Classical...
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How Many Pinocchios for Common Beliefs about Student Debt?

A forthcoming book called Lesson Plan throws cold water on the fear that student debt may stunt the lives of college graduates. Co-authors William Bowen and Michael McPherson are both scholars of higher education who have led colleges and educational foundations. In a recent interview with Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Education, the two authors explained that the notion of...
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Peace Through Reading

Some educators are beginning to worry that the wired generation is going to give up serious reading altogether. Judging from our experience here at St. John’s, the future of reading is not at risk. Our students prove every day that it’s perfectly possible to be fully plugged in and at the same time to be absorbed by the greatest books...
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Slogans Don’t Substitute for Thinking

A good slogan, whether it’s comical or serious, catches your attention. Slogans satisfy our innate desire for simplicity and pith. Sometimes they even rhyme, which implants them deeply into our minds—rhyme and music being powerful aids to memory. (Remember the rhyme “Thirty days hath September, / April, June, and November”? How could you forget it?) I recently came across a...
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Say No to Soul-Crushing Education

The internet is a fascinating place. It holds on to people’s thoughts and writings for a long time. Of course, much of what we find on the web is not of lasting value. But some of it is. A few weeks ago, I came across a high school graduation speech that apparently went viral almost six years ago. Erica Goldson...
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Seeking Meaning? Try Starting with the Elements

The study of mathematics here at St. John’s begins with Euclid’s Elements, the wonderfully inventive book that takes us from the simplest beginnings of geometry to the highly complicated construction of five Platonic solids. Studying Euclid engages us in an activity that brings geometrical objects into being even as we recognize them for what they already are, eternal and unchanging,...
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Learning and Technology

Last semester in Annapolis, the Mellon Foundation Study Group on Digital Technology took up the question, how do human beings stand in relation to technology? This faculty study group is being led by Cordell Yee, and its members include Louis Petrich, Sarah Benson, William Braithwaite, Catherine Dixon, George and Minna Doskow, and Eva Brann. The group will issue a report...
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