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preferring an integrated educational feast to a smorgasbord
of viewpoints.
Take, for instance, Kallisti Staver, a sophomore from
Detroit, who initially was drawn to St. John’s because of her
interest in philosophy. At St. John’s she has seen connections
she never thought about. “I’ve learned things about Greek
math from reading the Greek plays,” said Kallisti. She was
so excited by her academic forays into Greek civilization, in
fact, that last year she joined a Greek study group that met
outside class.
“I really think that the way [the curriculum] is put
together lays a very strong foundation for branching off into
any areas we might take,” Staver said.
According to the college seal, that is the goal of the
school. “I make free adults out of children by means of
books and a balance,” it states.
Yet even St. John’s officials acknowledge that such
balance sometimes eludes them. Despite its ballyhooing
about classical education, there is one area in which St.
John’s is somewhat remiss: physical education. The school
doesn’t offer any intercollegiate sports, and physical
education is not included in the curriculum.
The situation—and the attitude about it—is best
summed up by a T-shirt popular on the Santa Fe campus.
“Great Books, No Gym,” it proclaims. The T-shirt is soon
to be obsolete—the school has broken ground for a new
student activities center that includes a gymnasium, but
remains short of funds to build it, and the Annapolis
campus already has a gym.
Meantime, as head of the Santa Fe campus student
activities office, Mark St. John is relegated to a messy
basement room out of which he runs the school’s intramural
St. John’s College
August 2007
here is a certain irony inherent in asking someone from
St. John’s College whether there have been any significant changes,
since the defining philosophy of the institution is to stand on the
most deeply held traditions.
Perhaps the most notable change in recent years involves the use
of computers. In 1999
National CrossTalk
reported that the Santa Fe
campus had only 15 school-owned computers, but that is hardly the case
today. “Students come in with computers as a tool, part of their everyday
lives,” said Larry Clendenin, who graduated from the college in the
late 1970s and is now director of admissions for the Santa Fe campus.
“At least two-thirds of our incoming freshmen are bringing personal
computers with them,” he said.
The Santa Fe campus has a computer lab with more than 50
machines, and the library also offers both PCs andMacs. “All of the
rooms in residence halls are wired, so students have access to theWorld
WideWeb,” Clendenin said. Computers and software have found their
way into the curriculum, he added, but he was careful to clarify that they
are used only “as a support.” St. John’s College is “still a pencil and paper
place in the classroom,” he said.
According to David Cherry, admissions counselor at St. John’s
campus in Annapolis, computers are now “ubiquitous, if only because
of the popularity of the
net.” But he added that it
is “still rare for computers
to be used for curricular
purposes,” and that it would
be inappropriate for a
student to submit a paper
as an e-mail attachment.
“They print it out, and hand
it to their tutors in person,”
he said.
As we reported in 1999,
the number of students
who express an interest in
applying to St. John’s continues to increase. But, since the college
jealously limits enrollments to between 450 and 475 students at each
campus, the only way for it to growwould be to establish a third
campus—a distinct possibility, although there are no current plans
to do so.
Both campuses boast new residential facilities, and are now
housing a higher percentage
of their students, currently
about 70 to 75 percent. “Santa
Fe is an expensive place
for students to live,” said
Clendenin. “It’s our desire for
all the students to be able to
reside on campus if they want
to. And we have additional
residence halls planned to
begin construction next
year.” According to Cherry,
when two new residence halls
were recently built on the
Annapolis campus, “within a
year, every room on campus
was booked.”
When it comes to
St. John’s “Great Books”
curriculum, of course, any
changes are reviewed very carefully, with deliberations involving the
Faculty Committee on Instruction and the Student Committee on
Instruction. And the pace of change is glacial. In 1999 we reported
that Flannery O’Connor had recently “made the cut,” with the
inclusion of some of her short stories in the curriculum. Eight years
later, when Cherry was asked about recent changes in the required
readings, O’Connor’s was still the first name cited. “That gets you
into the 1950s,” he said. “We also took out ‘Prometheus Bound’ (by
Aeschylus), and put in Aristophanes’ ‘The Birds.’” Martin Luther was
recently replaced by John Calvin, Cherry said, and he hinted that
there is some serious talk of removing the “Rat Man” case history
from the Sigmund Freud reading.
—Todd Sallo
Computers and software
have found their way
into the curriculum at
St. John’s, but they are
used only as a support
to the “paper and
pencil” approach.
Any alterations to
St. John’s “Great
Books” curriculum
are reviewed very
carefully, with
involving faculty and
student committees.
And the pace of
change is glacial.