St Johns College U S

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St. John's College describes itself as one college on two campuses: St. John's College, Annapolis and St. John's College, Santa Fe. St. John's College, Annapolis was chartered in 1784, making it one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the U.S. The College incorporated the assets of King William's school, a grammar or preparatory school founded in 1696.

Since 1937, the school has followed a unique curriculum, called The New Program or the Great Books Program, based on discussion of works from the Western philosophic and literary canon. Within St. John's College, the curriculum is often referred to simply as "The Program." The Great Books program was developed at the University of Chicago by Stringfellow Barr, Scott Buchanan, Robert Hutchins, and Mortimer Adler in the mid-1930s as an alternate form of education to the then rapidly-changing undergraduate curriculum. The four-year, all-required program of study allows students to engage directly with some of the greatest minds in Western civilization, through reading and discussing original works of philosophy, theology, political science, mathematics, science, music, poetry, and literature. There are no textbooks and all classes are based on discussion. Tutors, as professors are called at the College, guide the classes but do not lead them. Students are challenged to judge for themselves the various viewpoints they encounter.

The College is not affiliated with any religious organization. One undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts, is granted to all students. Two Master's degrees are currently available, one in Western classics, which is a modified version of the undergraduate curriculm, and a parallel course of studies in Eastern Classics. The Master's in Eastern Classics is unique to St. John's Santa Fe, as no other accredited institution of higher learning in North America offers a similar degree. Both graduate degrees are awarded to graduate students through the college's Graduate Institute.


St. John's College was chartered in 1784 and later began granting bachelor's degrees. The school occupied a building originally built for King William's School, a defunct grammar school established in 1696 whose assets St. John's incorporated. There was some association with the Freemasons early in the college's history, leading to speculation that it was named after Saint John the Evangelist, the patron saint of Freemasonry. The College's original charter, reflecting its composition by men of Masonic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian faiths, stated that "youth of all religious denominations shall be freely and liberally admitted."

The College curriculum has taken various forms throughout its history. Although it began with a general program of study in the liberal arts, St. John's was a military school for much of the 19th century. In contrast to Washington and Lee University, a contemporary institution, the College always maintained a small size, generally enrolling fewer than 500 men at a time.

In 1936, the College lost its accreditation.[1] The Board of Visitors and Governors, faced with dire financial straits caused by the Great Depression, invited educational innovators Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan to make a completely fresh start. They introduced a new program of study, which is essentially the one still in effect as of 2005. Buchanan became dean of the College, while Barr assumed its presidency.

In 1938, Walter Lippman wrote a column praising liberal arts education as a bulwark against fascism, and said “in the future, men will point to St. John’s College and say that there was the seed-bed of the American renaissance.” [2]

In 1940, national attention was attracted to St. John's by a story in Life Magazine entitled: The Classics: At St. John’s They Come into Their Own Once More. [3]

Classic works unavailable in English translation were translated by faculty members, typed, mimeographed, and bound. They were sold to the general public as well as to students, and by 1941 the St. John's College bookshop was famous as the only source for English translations of works such as Copernicus's Revolutions of the Celestial Sphere, St. Augustine's De Musica, and Ptolemy's Mathematical Compositions.

The wartime years were difficult for St. John's. Enlistment and the draft all but emptied the college; 15 seniors graduated in 1943, 8 in 1945, and 3 in 1946.[4]

From 1940 to 1946, St. John's was repeatedly confronted with threats of its land being seized by the Navy for expansion the Naval Academy. In 1945, James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, announced plans to seize the St. John's campus for expansion of the U. S. Naval academy. At the time, the New York Times, which had expected a legal battle royal comparable to the Dartmouth case, commented[5] that "although a small college of fewer than 200 students, St. John's has, because of its experimental liberal arts program, received more publicity and been the center of a greater academic controversy than most other colleges in the land. Its best-books program has been attacked and praised by leading educators of the day."

The constant threat of eviction discouraged Stringfellow Barr. In late 1946 Forrestal withdrew the plan, in the face of public opposition and the disapproval of the House Naval Affairs Committee, but Barr and Scott Buchanan were already committed to leaving St. John's and attempting to launch a new, similar college in Stockbridge, Massachusetts; the project eventually failed.

In 1951, St. John's became coeducational, admitting women for the first time in its then-254-year history.

In 1961 the governing board of St. John's approved plans to establish a second college at Santa Fe, New Mexico. According to Western mystery writer Tony Hillerman, the site selection committee originally had expected to locate in Claremont, California, and reluctantly accepted an invitation to inspect a New Mexico site. Hillerman spins a tale of the committeemen:

made pale from the weak sun of the coastal climate and their scholarly profession, generally urban, generally Eastern, solidly W.A.S.P. They came from a world which was old Anglo-Saxon family, old books, Greek and Latin literacy, prep schools and Blue Point oysters and Ivy League; a world bounded on the north by Boston... and on the south by Virginia.

and whom, according to Hillerman, became captivated by the Sangre de Cristo range and the presence of mule deer tracks.[6] Groundbreaking occurred on April 22, 1963, and the first classes held in 1964.

In 1969, Richard D. Weigle of St. John's was among 79 college presidents signing an October 9th letter to Richard M. Nixon urging a stepped-up timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. The letter said they were "speaking as individuals" and described the war as "a denial of so much that is best in their society."

Notable people associated with St. John's

Annapolis Campus

St. John's is located in the Historic Annapolis district, one block away from the Maryland State Capitol building. Its proximity to the United States Naval Academy has inspired many a comparison to Athens and Sparta. The schools carry on a spirited rivalry seen in the annual croquet match between the two schools on the front lawn of St. John's, which has won 14 out of the last 18 matches.

The center of campus, McDowell Hall, was built in 1734. Its Great Hall has seen many college events, from balls feting Generals Lafayette and Washington to the unique St. John's institutions called waltz parties.

Santa Fe Campus

St. John's is located at the foot of Monte Sol, on the eastern edge of Santa Fe. It was opened in 1964 due to the increase in qualified applicants at the Annapolis campus. The College chose to open a second campus rather than destroy the intimate feel of the Annapolis campus.

The Santa Fe campus offers students a more secluded atmosphere, in addition to the vast Pecos Wilderness and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The college maintains gear to facilitate student use of the outdoors, such as kayaks, rafts, hiking equipment, and sports equipment. In addition, the college Search and Rescue team is recognized throughout the Southwest, participating in a wide variety of rescue missions in conjuction with the New Mexico State Police and other volunteer teams.

Curriculum Overview

The program involves:

  • Four years of literature and philosophy in seminar
  • Four years of mathematics
  • Three years of laboratory science
  • Two years of Ancient Greek
  • Two years of French
  • Freshman year chorus followed by sophomore year music

The Great Books are not literally the only texts used at St. John's. Greek and French classes make use of supplemental materials that are more like traditional textbooks. Science laboratory courses and mathematics courses use manuals prepared by faculty members that combine source materials with workbook exercises. For example, the mathematics tutorial combines a 1905 paper by Albert Einstein with exercises that require the student to work through the mathematics used in the paper.

Nevertheless, the emphasis on source materials is strong; all seminar readings are from the book list, and music is studied from scores that are primary sources.

Criticism and Controversy

St. John's curriculum has drawn criticism and inspired controversy since its inception. It went far beyond the then-existing Columbia University and University of Chicago Great Books programs in making the Great Books the entire curriculum rather than one of many courses of study, and in extending the Great Books approach to the sciences as well as the humanities.

Writing in 1938, just after the first group of freshmen completed their first semester under the new curriculum, Stringfellow Barr[7] insisted that there was nothing radical about the curriculum and that it was

merely carrying out the terms of the eighteenth century charter of St. John's and restoring discipline in the liberal arts and an acquaintance with our intellectual heritage in place of the vocational interests and cafeteria courses that clutter our liberal arts curricula today.

He referred to "opponents of the St. John's program" and said that they consider it "authoritarian and fascist." He said that some "suspect that some sort of Catholic indoctrination is being attempted" because of the inclusion of Aristotle and medieval scholastic works in the curriculum, while "Catholic educators have denounced the list for including Marx and Freud."

Writing in 1944, Sidney Hook[8] quotes Bertrand Russell

The subject on which you write is one about which I feel very strongly. I think the 'Best Hundred Books' people are utterly absurd on the scientific side. I was myself brought up on Euclid and Newton and I can see the case for them. But on the whole Euclid is much too slow-moving. Boole is not comparable to his successors. Descartes' geometry is surpassed by every modern textbook of analytical geometry. The broad rule is: historical approach where truth is unattainable, but not in a subject like mathematics or anatomy.

and Albert Einstein:

In my opinion there should be no compulsory reading of classical authors in the field of science.... lectures concerning the historical development of ideas in different fields are of great value for intelligent students, for such studies are furthering very effectively the independence of judgment and independence from blind belief in temporarily accepted views. I believe that such lectures should be treated as a kind of beautiful luxury and the students should not be bothered with examinations concerning historical facts.

St. John's provokes to an intensified degree the long-standing question of whether a liberal arts degree is suitable preparation for modern-day employment. In 1937, Robert Hutchins insisted that other educational methods "fail in all respects—we don't get either good practitioners or well-educated people." He said that thirty-six industries in Minneapolis and St. Paul, answering a questionnaire, said that they preferred "no specific education in schools" for their workers.[9]

Ranking and Reputation

In 1975, a St. John's graduate gave this description[10] of how a St. John's degree was received by other institutions:

Bernard M. Davidoff, M. D., a graduate of St. John's in 1969 and of Columbia Medical School... said the medical schools to which he applied reacted to his unconventional preparation in two ways. "Those who had not heard of St. John's were not impressed. Those who knew of the college generally waived requirements." Like most St. John's alumni who enter medical school, he took an undergraduate course in organic chemistry at another college. Dr. Davidoff... cited only one difficulty in adapting to medical school. "I didn't have any interesting people to talk to," he recalled.

Motivational business speaker Zig Ziglar included a chapter on "St. John's: A College That Works" in a 1997 book[11]. He said St. John's holds fast to the "medieval" notion that all knowledge is one and states that "the books they use are terribly hard." He notes that the school "ranks fifth nationally in the number of graduates earning doctorates in the humanities" and is impressed by the 81% of graduates entering education, engineering, law, medicine, and other professions. He concludes "Sounds like St. John's is onto something. Maybe more schools should take that approach."

St. John's runs counter to the usual emphasis on rankings and selectivity. As of 2005, St. John's college has chosen not to participate in any collegiate rankings surveys, has not sent them their requested survey information, and is not included. President Christopher B. Nelson states that "In principle, St. John's is opposed to rankings." He notes that

Over the years, St. John's College has been ranked everywhere from third, second, and first tier, to one of the "Top 25" liberal arts colleges. Yet, the curious thing is: We haven't changed. Our mission and our methods have been virtually constant for almost 60 years. So when it comes to the U.S. News and World Report rankings, we would rather be ourselves and have our college speak for itself, than be subjected to fluctuating outside analysis.[12]

An educational reporter[13] notes:

Unlike many top-flight liberal arts colleges, St. John's isn't all that hard to get into: The school accepts 75 to 80 percent of applicants, primarily based on three written essays and, to a certain extent, grades. There is no application fee, and standardized tests, like the Scholastic Assessment Test, are optional. About three-quarters of the enrolled students ranked in the top half of their high school class, but only one fifth graduated in the top tenth. School officials said that's because they're less concerned that the applicant show a body of accumulated knowledge than a true desire for attaining it.

Curriculum Details

The Great Books

The same set of Great Books is the basis of the curriculum at both campuses of St. John's College. As of 2005, it is:

Freshman Year

Homer: Iliad, Odyssey
Aeschylus: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound
Sophocles: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes
Thucydides: Peloponnesian War
Euripides: Hippolytus, Bacchae
Herodotus: Histories
Aristophanes: Clouds
Plato: Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist, Timaeus, Phaedrus
Aristotle: Poetics, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, On Generation and Corruption, Politics, Parts of Animals, Generation of Animals
Euclid: Elements
Lucretius: On the Nature of Things
Plutarch: Lycurgus, Solon
Nicomachus: Arithmetic
Antoine Lavoisier: Elements of Chemistry
William Harvey: Motion of the Heart and Blood
Essays by: Archimedes, Gabriel Fahrenheit, Amedeo Avogadro, John Dalton, Cannizzaro, Virchow, Edme Mariotte, Hans Driesch, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, Hans Spemann, Stears, J.J. Thomson, Dmitri Mendeleev, Berthollet, Joseph Proust

Sophomore Year

The Bible
Aristotle: De Anima, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Categories
Apollonius: Conics
Virgil: Aeneid
Plutarch: Caesar and Cato the Younger
Epictetus: Discourses, Manual
Tacitus: Annals
Ptolemy: Almagest
Plotinus: The Enneads
Augustine of Hippo: Confessions
Anselm of Canterbury: Proslogion
Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, Summa Contra Gentiles
Dante: Divine Comedy
Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tales
Josquin Des Prez: Mass
Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince, Discourses
Nicolaus Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Spheres
Martin Luther: The Freedom of a Christian
François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli
Michel de Montaigne: Essays
François Viète: Introduction to the Analytical Art
Francis Bacon: Novum Organum
William Shakespeare: Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, Coriolanus, Sonnets
Poems by: Andrew Marvell, John Donne, and other 16th- and 17th-century poets
René Descartes: Geometry, Discourse on Method
Blaise Pascal: Generation of Conic Sections
Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion, Inventions
Joseph Haydn: Quartets
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Operas
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonatas
Franz Schubert: Songs
Igor Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms

Junior Year

Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
Galileo Galilei: Dialogues on Two New Sciences
René Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
John Milton: Paradise Lost
François de La Rochefoucauld: Maximes
Jean de La Fontaine: Fables
Blaise Pascal: Pensées
Christiaan Huygens: Treatise on Light, On the Movement of Bodies by Impact
George Eliot: Middlemarch
Baruch Spinoza: Theologico-Political Treatise
John Locke: Second Treatise of Government
Jean Racine: Phèdre
Isaac Newton: Principia Mathematica
Johannes Kepler: Epitome IV
Gottfried Leibniz: Monadology, Discourse on Metaphysics, Essay on Dynamics, Philosophical Essays, Principles of Nature and Grace
Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels
David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Social Contract, Discourse on Origins of Inequality
Molière: The Misanthrope
Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations
Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Metaphysics of Morals
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
Richard Dedekind: Essay on the Theory of Numbers

Senior Year

Declaration of Independence
The Constitution
Supreme Court opinions
Hamilton, Jay, and Madison: The Federalist Papers
Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Phenomenology of Mind, "Logic" (from the Encyclopedia)
Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky: Theory of Parallels
Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America
Abraham Lincoln: Selected Speeches
Søren Kierkegaard: Philosophical Fragments, Fear and Trembling
Karl Marx: Capital, Political and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology
Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
Herman Melville: Benito Cereno
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Flannery O'Connor: Parker's Back, The Artificial Nigger
Sigmund Freud: General Introduction to Psychoanalysis
Booker T. Washington: Selected Writings
W. E. B. DuBois: The Souls of Black Folk
Martin Heidegger: What is Philosophy?
Werner Heisenberg: The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory
Robert Millikan: The Electron
Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness

Essays by: Michael Faraday, J.J. Thomson, Gregor Mendel, Hermann Minkowski, Ernest Rutherford, Clinton Davisson, Erwin Schrödinger, Niels Bohr, James Clerk Maxwell, Louis-Victor de Broglie, Dreisch, Hans Christian Ørsted, André-Marie Ampère, Theodor Boveri, Walter Sutton, Morgan, Beadle and Tatum, Gerald Jay Sussman, Watson and Crick, Jacob & Monod, G. H. Hardy

See also


  • Harty, Rosemary (2005), Director of Communications, St. John's College, Annapolis, personal communication (Source details of non-Great-Books materials used at St. John's)


  1. ^  Kathy Witkowsky, 1999: A Quiet Counterrevolution: St. John's College teaches the classics—and only the classics Spring 1999 article in Educational Crosstalk
  2. ^  Charles A. Nelson (2001), Radical Visions: Stringfellow Barr, Scott Buchanan, and Their Efforts on behalf of Education and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Bergin and Garvey, Westport, CT. ISBN 0897898044.
  3. ^  ibid.
  4. ^  ibid.
  5. ^  "St.John's and Navy Facing Fight In Courts Over College's Campus", June 29, 1945, p. 17
  6. ^  Tony Hillerman, 2001, "The Committee and the Mule Deer," from The Great Taos Bank Robbery: and Other True Stories of the Southwest. Harper paperbacks; ISBN 0060937122; A9 online page images
  7. ^  "St. John's Hails New Curriculum; President Barr of Annapolis College Analyzes Results of 100 Books' program; Elective System Goes; 'Discipline in Liberal Arts' is Substituted for 'Vocational and Cafeteria Course'". The New York Times, July 3, 1938, p. 20.
  8. ^  A Critical Appraisal of the St. John's College Curriculum, online text from Education for Modern Man (New York: The Dial Press, 1946). Reprinted with some minor changes from The New Leader, May 26 and June 4, 1944.
  9. ^  "Dr. Hutchins to Aid New-Type College. Head of Chicago University To Be A Governor of St. Johns at Annapolis, Md. To Revive Ancient Aims. Idea of Educating People to Live Instead of To Earn Living to Be Tested, He says." The New York Times, July 7, 1937, p. 19
  10. ^  "Mixing Frogs and Aristotle," The New York Times, May 4, 1975
  11. ^  Zig Ziglar, 1997: Something To Smile About Encouragement And Inspiration For Life's Ups And Downs Nelson Books, ISBN 0840791836 A9 online page images
  12. ^  Why you won't find St. John's College ranked in U.S. News and World Report. Article by Christopher B. Nelson in "University Business: The Magazine for College and University Administrators]
  13. ^  Kathy Witkowsky, 1999, op. cit.

External links