St. John’s, an Annapolis Landmark
By Sus3an Borden
Whether Annapolis is your hometown or you became an Annapolitan by choice, you were probably aware of St. John’s College for quite some time before you learned of its unusual education and national reputation.
Perhaps you picnicked on its campus or went to the Mitchell Gallery to see a Rembrandt exhibition, not realizing until several weeks, months or even years later that this St. John’s College is the famous “Great Books” college that you read about in the Washington Post, saw featured on PBS or heard about from a friend with a love of the classics and an interest in higher education.
Regardless of how long it takes to make the connection between the college in your backyard and its national reputation, you eventually discover the three distinctive attributes of the St. John’s College education:
- First, there are no textbooks. The college uses the seminal works of Western civilization, from the poetic epics of Homer to the scientific papers of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, as the foundation for addressing the most important questions we ask throughout our lives: What is the proper balance between the needs of a community and the rights of an individual? Why should we believe that matter is mostly empty space when our senses tell us otherwise? Is war a result of evil or part of human nature?
- Second, the college has a single, all-required curriculum. All students take four years of math (from Euclid to Lobachevsky), three years of laboratory science (from Aristotle to Crick and Watson), four years of language (two of each in ancient Greek and French), one year of music theory, four years of seminars on works of literature, philosophy, theology and political philosophy by authors such as Plato, Machiavelli, Aquinas, Lincoln and Tolstoy.
- Third, every class is a discussion. Faculty does not lecture. Instead, they work through the theology of Kierkegaard and the theories of Darwin alongside their students in lively, ambitious conversations that challenge the students, the faculty and the texts themselves.
As Annapolitans learn more about St. John’s, many take advantage of opportunities to become part of the college community. “We see it all the time,” says college Vice President Barbara Goyette. “A growing understanding of the curriculum leads to a growing engagement with the college.” And as that happens, she explains, many people build their connection to St. John’s by taking classes in its continuing education programs.
Beyond the classroom, several hundred nearby residents find other ways to engage the college. Business owners join the Business Friends of St. John’s College; art lovers become members of the Mitchell Art Gallery. And a very special group to join is the Caritas Society, (www.stjohnscollege.edu/friends/AN/caritas.shtml) an independent nonprofit with 220 members who meet monthly between September and May and host several fundraisers throughout the year.
Caritas was founded in 1969 to help students with financial aid and to bring the college and the community closer together. Although 69 percent of St. John’s students already receive some form of scholarship aid, Caritas raises money to help students who have special financial challenges. When, for example, a parent loses a job or a family faces unexpected medical expenses, Caritas awards grants totaling up to $30,000 each year. In the past decade, the organization has raised several hundred thousand dollars for St. John’s College students.
One of the best Caritas fundraisers is Meet the Authors, an annual event that features three noted authors discussing their books and writing life. This year’s event will take place on Nov. 10, featuring Manil Suri, who wrote The City of Devi; Meg Wolitzer with her book The Interestings and Kenneth T. Walsh, author of Prisoners of the White House.
Whether you’re a longtime friend of St. John’s or just beginning to learn of its curriculum and academic prominence, members of the Caritas Society encourage you to attend Meet the Authors. You have the chance to hear an in-depth account of books and writing from three excellent authors while helping out students. It’s the perfect occasion for Annapolitans to draw closer to St. John’s.
Sus3an is the director of corporate and foundation relations at St. Johns College. She can be reached at 410.626.2506 or firstname.lastname@example.org