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July 24, 2007 10:04 PM   Subscribe

Gawker's Poll for Most Annoying Liberal Arts College.
posted by Esoquo (75 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Only two schools west of the Rockies? None from the Midwest?

It's all East Coast Prententious Media Bias, I tell ya.
posted by dw at 10:18 PM on July 24, 2007


Antioch. Yellow Springs, Ohio.
posted by ao4047 at 10:22 PM on July 24, 2007


Bennington College is the basis of Camden in Bret Easton Ellis' Rules of Attraction, which trumps Gawker by a decade at least. It can be summed up from the rather trivial subplot: Sean Bateman (who lies to everyone about his personal wealth) dates a hippy who does a lot of drugs and whose dad happens to own a substantial portion of Visa. They obtain a sort of strange equilibrium by totally ignoring that privilege and class allow them to dick around at a multi-year Four Seasons. They approach picking majors with the same gusto as choosing entertainment on a cruise ship.
posted by geoff. at 10:24 PM on July 24, 2007


I vote for whichever one spawned Gawker's editors.
posted by falconred at 10:33 PM on July 24, 2007 [9 favorites]


I'm more generally biased against private schools. But maybe that's Californian privilege speaking?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:38 PM on July 24, 2007


Take this one with a grain of salt: no Pepperdine?!
posted by rob511 at 10:41 PM on July 24, 2007


And I voted for Reed, because of the story I'm about to tell.

I was working for a dotcom here in Seattle during the turn-of-the-millenium boom. They hired a marketing director who proudly proclaimed himself a Reedie. The company was doing a rebranding with new colors and logo, so out came the new business cards. Hip orange and green on the front, all green on the back.

I got my box of cards and noticed something unusual. The card was coated, including the back. The coating made it impossible to write on the cards with ink. Now, I'm the type who likes to write on the back of business cards, so this was a little annoying. I ran into the marketing director later that day.

"I got the new business cards."
"Yeah, aren't they GREAT?"
"Well, yeah, except you can't write on them."
"What?"
"You can't write on the back. The paper is coated."
"So? Aren't they GREAT?"
"You are going to change them on the next press run, right?"
"No, I think they're GREAT just the way they are!"

Two months later he was canned. I quit about a month later. As I was leaving the org, a newer employee than gave me her business card. The back was uncoated.

Thus, I tend to think all Reedies are as impractical as him.
posted by dw at 10:51 PM on July 24, 2007


i am oddly pleased yet not at all surprised to see my alma mater on this list. oh, oberlin. you are so ridiculous.
posted by timory at 10:54 PM on July 24, 2007


LOL LIBRULARTZ.

Ugh, threads like this only bring out people's bitter stories, and the LIFELONG impression that one or two douchebags from a school left on them.
posted by piratebowling at 10:57 PM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Who is Patrick Bateman in that story, dw. You or him?
posted by stavrogin at 11:04 PM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Where is Saint John's College (of Annapolis, MD)? That college should DEFINITELY be on the list.
posted by parmanparman at 11:06 PM on July 24, 2007


Man, I wish I could edit my punctuation.
posted by stavrogin at 11:06 PM on July 24, 2007


I applied to Bennington in the mid-80's;I say I didn't get in because I am not a coke addict ( but I had a nasty LA diet doctor ask what Ellis would think of me when I was {at the time} 30 pounds overweight--it turns out that it wouldn't particularly matter since he prefers boys).


I wound up at (now defunct) Bradford for two 1/2 years and finished at Emerson--where I wish I'd been for all four.
posted by brujita at 11:36 PM on July 24, 2007


I just did a quarter at Evergreen. I've got my application in for the next term, but I dunno - I went in to learn English tutoring and I heard faculty say "don't feel constrained by the meanings of words," to a student.
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:10 AM on July 25, 2007


I agree with ao4047: it ought to be Antioch, which isn't even on the list.

The trustees just voted to close the place, because the student body collapsed and the college was in a downward spiral. It only has a $30 million endowment, which is pretty pitiful for that kind of college. But that's not the reason why it belongs on the list.

Antioch was the place that instituted a "sexual offense prevention policy" that required people who were snuggling to explicitly ask for and be granted permission before doing anything new and more intimate than had come before. For every single such step.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:22 AM on July 25, 2007


Where is Saint John's College (of Annapolis, MD)? That college should DEFINITELY be on the list.

Also of Santa Fe. Anyway, I expected/worried that it'd be on the list. But, really, the quality they are looking for isn't that pronounced at SJC. One of the two commenters (yeah, I read all the comments) who are johnnies mentioned that any given johnnie is basically the definition of a dilletwat, which I'll grant is by far our worst vice. But we have a different kind of pretension than is being lambasted by that list. Basically, we're way, way too nerdy.

It was interesting to read some of the comments where people said they'd not heard of most of the schools. I sometimes wonder if I far underestimate the amount of this sort of cultural stuff I've picked up in my life (I'm middle-aged). I mean, as a recent high school graduate, I had probably heard of only one or two of those schools. Still, though, as some guy from a small town in Eastern New Mexico, I figure that if I'm aware of that particular American subculture—the premiere prep schools, the elite liberal arts colleges—then pretty much everyone should be, right?

I had an officemate once who it somehow came about that I learned he had attended to Andover. I said, oh, wow, you went to Andover, what was that like? And the first thing he said was that he was surprised I had heard of it. Obviously, in certain social circles, it'd be the other way around. But we were just officemates at an ISP in Austin. I guess that his experience was that regular folk outside of the northeast usually had never heard of Andover.

Reed was the other school I considered besides St. John's when I decided to go back to school in my mid-twenties. And Bard was on my list, as well. But now I sort of wonder what it would have been like to go to Sarah Lawrence. Not that I regret my decision—I'm a johnnie through and through and it was the best decision I've made in my entire life. But I have to admit that I find the quality that is being mocked in this list, and which SJC mostly lacks, to be attractive. There's a lot of drugs and fucking at SJC. But we're so damn serious otherwise. I sort of like the idea of a school that really is pretty much nothing but drugs and fucking. But, hey, who wouldn't?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:01 AM on July 25, 2007


I vote for whichever one spawned Gawker's editors.

Because if college doesn't teach you how to maximize your salary earning potential, you're not doing it right.
posted by wfrgms at 1:23 AM on July 25, 2007


Yet another stellar contribution from Gawker! Forget the Pulitzer, these guys are aiming at the Nobel-Pea-Emm-car-zer. Like, the ultimate.
posted by oxford blue at 1:42 AM on July 25, 2007


It was interesting to read some of the comments where people said they'd not heard of most of the schools.

From Canada, they're all pretty much invisible. I knew about Oberlin because of Liz Phair, Sarah Lawrence due to someone I sort of knew online, Evergreen because I work in Seattle now, and Reed again due to online.

It all sort of sounds like various campuses of Trust Fund City College to me. But then, "trust fund kids" wasn't something I had heard until I came to the US, either.

I can never decide if I was just really, really, really sheltered, or it's just Different here. Over the years I've definitely gravitated toward the latter, though.
posted by blacklite at 1:57 AM on July 25, 2007


(On the other hand, drugs and fucking sounds like something I could deal with. And I have been meaning to go back to college. Decisions decisions.)
posted by blacklite at 2:00 AM on July 25, 2007


Steven C Den Beste, from the wikipedia article you linked:
This revised policy only attracted national publicity two years later, during the fall semester of the 1993-94 academic year, allegedly when a student doing a co-op on the west coast mentioned the policy to a California campus newspaper reporter
If it took two years to come to the attention of the national media, it was either not enforced very strongly, or wasn't that big a deal to practice. Anyway, I prefer overreaction on the subject of acquaintance rape to the usual approach of apathy and victim blame.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:09 AM on July 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


I heard faculty say "don't feel constrained by the meanings of words," to a student.

I think that's a great thing for college students to hear.
posted by surplus at 3:19 AM on July 25, 2007


I expected to see Drew Univ. at least in the initial list. But that's probably just a drug-and-sex flashback I'm having to the late '70s.
posted by paddbear at 3:40 AM on July 25, 2007


I'd take pseudo-hipsters and drunk naked drug orgies over a bunch of frat boys and vomit date rape parties any day of the week.
posted by miss tea at 3:58 AM on July 25, 2007 [5 favorites]


Bowdoin. If you grew up in the shadow of Camp Bobo, you'd agree with me.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:36 AM on July 25, 2007


The most annoying guy I ever met was from Harvey Mudd. Does that count for anything?
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:19 AM on July 25, 2007


I did graduate work in Anthropology at the University of Chicago, so I'm going to say Reed.

Runner-up: St. John's.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:23 AM on July 25, 2007


I'd take pseudo-hipsters and drunk naked drug orgies over a bunch of frat boys and vomit date rape parties any day of the week.

Amen to that.
posted by mediareport at 5:29 AM on July 25, 2007


> I'd take pseudo-hipsters and drunk naked drug orgies over a bunch of frat boys and vomit
> date rape parties any day of the week.

The only choices life has offered you? Dear me.
posted by jfuller at 5:37 AM on July 25, 2007


EatTheWeak: I'm in my last year at Evergreen, and I work there too, full-time for the summer.

Email is in my profile.

Evergreen's the only place I can imagine where I would have the opportunity to teach an undergraduate Computer Science course, as an undergraduate, twice.

Though people can be pretty insufferable here too — the flamewars on the 'All Staff and Faculty' email list can get pretty hilarious, moreso when I interject.
posted by blasdelf at 5:42 AM on July 25, 2007


No mention of Liberty or Bob Jones U here?
posted by psmealey at 5:57 AM on July 25, 2007


The only choices life has offered you? Dear me.

Just matching parodies, jfuller.
posted by mediareport at 6:08 AM on July 25, 2007


I'm certain there are plenty of smart people that went to Bennington, but I never met them. Having studied abroad for a significant part of my undergrad and graduate education, I met all kinds of American ne'erdowells, boozy preppies, trustafarians and dope-smoking thrill seekers, and the majority of them, it seemed, were from Bennington.

These were kids that went to Swiss boarding schools, and did "post graduate" high school years at Northfield Mount Herman, Taft or Choate. Very adept socially, charming even, seemingly even cultured and educated, but just not bright, and even less motivated.

At the time it was the most expensive school in the country (really, how much can living/rooming expenses be in Vermont?), and always wondered why? I had come to think of it as mostly a finishing school for kids waiting to come into their inheritances.

Maybe it was just random happenstance that I met such an unfortunate (and homogeneous) representation of its student body? Really, I'd love to hear a defense of Bennington, because the place sounds idyllic.
posted by psmealey at 6:11 AM on July 25, 2007


I sent this in to BAM (Brown Alumni Monthly):

Brown: "it's the same liberal arts bullshit plus all the extra Ivy douchebaggery. Like the students weren't even committed enough to the liberal arts cause to risk that strangers on the street wouldn't immediately recognize their superiority."

hoping they could somehow work it into the application packet information they send out to high-school seniors.
posted by Wash Jones at 6:12 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


"post graduate" high school years at Northfield Mount Herman, Taft or Choate. Very adept socially, charming even, seemingly even cultured and educated, but just not bright, and even less motivated.

Ah, childhood. The dumbest people I ever met had parents paying huge sums of money to deny the obvious for as long as possible, which subsidized my education quite nicely. Thanks, Robber Barons!
posted by yerfatma at 6:23 AM on July 25, 2007


You all realize they're now down to a deathmatch, right?

I am looking forward to my alma mater's win, because I am definitely the most annoying person I know.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:39 AM on July 25, 2007


Where is Saint John's College (of Annapolis, MD)? That college should DEFINITELY be on the list.
posted by parmanparman at 2:06 AM on July 25 [+] [!]


I disagree. St. John's Annapolis is truly weird, not just hipster wannabe weird like the rest of the liberal arts colleges on the list. It's lacking the faux-irony of the other schools -- I mean, they do the swing dancing and croquet thing as serious avocations, not as "look at me, I'm so retro kewl" affectations.

And of course, academically speaking, St. John's is an incredibly intense place. The kids might be annoying, but they do take their learnin' very seriously.

St. John's Annapolis also has a contingent of very, very, very conservative students -- I'm talking Sam Brownback-type conservative here. This apparently stems from Leo Strauss's influence -- he was a teacher there in the 70s.
posted by footnote at 6:55 AM on July 25, 2007


I'd take pseudo-hipsters and drunk naked drug orgies over a bunch of frat boys and vomit date rape parties any day of the week.

This is a bit like saying you'd prefer constipation to diarrhea. Neither one is any kind of fun.
posted by jonmc at 7:20 AM on July 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Simply being aware of these small trustafarian artsy colleges is kind of an indicator of privilege in and of itself.

(Wait-listed at Oberlin. I would have been in the class of '93)
posted by jason's_planet at 7:24 AM on July 25, 2007


Sometimes I'm glad I'm from the Midwest (excluding Ohio). The Liberal arts colleges from my state didn't even make the list.
posted by drezdn at 7:31 AM on July 25, 2007


This is a bit like saying you'd prefer constipation to diarrhea. Neither one is any kind of fun.

Unless you move immediately to B after a long period of A. There's some satisfaction there.
posted by yerfatma at 7:31 AM on July 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Touche, sir.
posted by jonmc at 7:33 AM on July 25, 2007


Rather pleased not to be on the list, nor in the comments.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:36 AM on July 25, 2007


St. John's Annapolis also has a contingent of very, very, very conservative students -- I'm talking Sam Brownback-type conservative here. This apparently stems from Leo Strauss's influence -- he was a teacher there in the 70s.

I don't think Strauss was ever actually a tutor. But he's part of the Columbia/Chicago/SJC Great Books nexus of the 30s, so he had a strong association with the College. Leo Kaplan, who was a long-time tutor, and he were great friends.

Nevertheless, I don't think Strauss was ever that influential at SJC relative to his influence elsewhere. His whole theory is an esoterica of the Great Books that is built around a professorial expertise that reveals it. That is antithetical to SJC's pedagogy, really, and that's why a number of these prominent Straussians, notably Alan Bloom, didn't like St. John's. St. John's lets the students read the books and decide for themselves what they mean, with only minimal instructor direction. For those wishing to indoctrinate someone in a worldview, this isn't very conducive to that goal.

That's also why johnnies have always been, and hopefully remain, the least conservative of all the students anywhere at programs that are Great Books oriented. The more the goal of the program is an ideologically-driven bit of cultural warfare, the more there's an impetus to distrust the students' ability to think for themselves and, rather, explain to them how all these books are the shining achievement of the West and how necessary it is to protect it from the Forces of Evil that want to destroy.

I know few johnnies that accept this sort of rhetoric.

In the 80s sometime, the National Review did a college survey of "conservative" colleges and universities, and while they deeply approved of the academic program at St. John's, they remarked that it was puzzling to them that the student body remained predominantly liberal. But you see, anyone who thinks that reading these books makes one conservative either has been indoctrinated by someone or they don't know what they hell they're talking about. The whole canon is one long radical questioning of the status quo, constantly undermining previously deeply-held conservative beliefs. There's exceptions, of course, but that's the general trend.

Also note that unlike every other Great Books program, the SJC curriculum puts as much emphasis on mathematics and science as literature and philosophy. So while other folks working through the canon are looking at mostly just the philosophy and literature, johnnies are also reading and working through the the entire development of western science. That also is not really conducive to indoctrinating someone into a conservative worldview because it, too, is one long sequence of revolutionary ideas.

That said, when I was at SJC in the early 90s, there were a minority of notably conservative students. It's hard to be ideological at the College, you run up against authors that challenge you, not to mention other students. Nevertheless, there are students who manage to remain fairly close-minded, though I didn't associate with them.

For my part, I represent the faction at the College that despises utilizing it as part of the culture wars and in the service of cultural chauvinism. I think highly of the western canon and science, but I don't think that it is the only important thought in human history.

I mean, look: the Santa Fe campus has a graduate (MA) program in Eastern Studies that is modeled after the pedagogy of the regular program. (This means, for example, that you have to learn either Sanskrit or Mandarin.) On the other hand, while the two campuses of the College are quite unified and we all think of it as one school with two campuses, it is the case that the Santa Fe campus is more liberal than Annapolis and the existence of the Eastern Studies Program in Santa Fe reflects that. I think that Eva Brann is supposed to have said during the controversy over creating the Eastern Studies Program, that the College had to let Santa Fe create the program or it risks a schism. I've not noticed any great difference between Annapolis and Santa Fe students with regard to their politics, although their might be some. I do feel fairly certain, though, that there is some difference between the faculty in this regard.

Anyway, I have an ex who attended the College from '01 to '05 after she was turned on to it by me and my johnnie friends. From her descriptions, I fear that the College has gotten somewhat more conservative and the students more achievement oriented. The profile of SJC has been raised much higher in the last fifteen years and I suspect that there are far more students who may be attending just because it's a good school—or at the insistence of their parents—than there used to be. It's such a truly unique education that, in the past, people sort of found their way there on their own.

I can't think of anything that horrifies me more than the thought that St. John's be taken over by little conservative ideological culture warriors. That's one of the reasons I'm so publicly outspoken about the College and my experiences there, as well as continually talking about the divergences between the Straussians and the Colllege, in spite of the association.

And of course, academically speaking, St. John's is an incredibly intense place. The kids might be annoying, but they do take their learnin' very seriously.

It's pretty remarkable in this respect. It's really a culture shock to be a johnnie and then go somewhere else and see people worrying about their grades rather than whether or not they actually understand something. You're right—there's no irony at all whatsoever with regard to the education. We are obsessed and we work very, very hard. I also happen to think that the four years of math and three years of lab help to cull those sorts of students who would otherwise just BS about literature and philosophy because they are articulate and able to get away with a a lot of handwaving. That portion of the program is a bit of a reality check.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:52 AM on July 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


I hear the scene at Apex Tech was pretty decadent.
posted by jonmc at 7:55 AM on July 25, 2007


I don't think Strauss was ever actually a tutor.

According to that unimpeachable source wikipedia, Strauss spent the last three years of his life as the "Scott Buchanan Distinguished Scholar in Residence" in Annapolis. But I think you're correct that his influence came more via the Great Books movement in general than from him directly.

I'm not sure whether St. John's can ever become a tool in the culture wars. From what I've seen, the common endeavour of reading and discussing the books doesn't permit ideology to interfere at first, and so there's an extensive common intellectual ground between all the students. I kind of feel the same way about my super conservative law school friends. We were all thrown into the abyss together and had to at first share the same basic task of figuring out how to speak the language. Application of ideology to the texts had to come later, even if the ideology existed before.
posted by footnote at 8:11 AM on July 25, 2007


dear god this is more amazing than i could have imagined: a friend of mine writes in "defending" oberlin and thus becomes a vague celebrity. hilarity.
posted by timory at 8:20 AM on July 25, 2007


To psmealy:

I attended Bennington College from 1993 until 1997. My Bennington education not only prepared me well for law school and a career as a trial attorney, but connected me with the most dynamic, intelligent, creative, and successful people I could ever hope to meet.

Open any anthology of modern American short stories or poems in your local bookstore, and you will find works by Bennington authors. Open the New Yorker and read through the calendar of events and there will be a performance by a Bennington actor, dancer, musician, lighting designer, or artist.

Bennington alumni success goes even beyond excellence in the arts. With a few exceptions, it is the Bennington people I know who are the most successful at living a rich life. Although I attended Bennington with fewer than 300 undergraduates, not a month goes by when I don't stumble across a report of their adventures; they always seem to capture the public's attention.
posted by kellygreen at 8:48 AM on July 25, 2007


Please donate to our alumni fund.
posted by jonmc at 8:51 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


psmealey: No mention of Liberty or Bob Jones U here?

Yeah, I was wondering that too. But can they really be called "liberal arts" schools?
posted by malaprohibita at 9:01 AM on July 25, 2007


I expected to see Drew Univ. at least in the initial list. But that's probably just a drug-and-sex flashback I'm having to the late '70s.
posted by paddbear at 6:40 AM on July 25 [+] [!]


paddbear, I expected to see dear Drew on the list because of similar flashbacks I (was not hip enough to participate in) I was having to the early-mid 90s). Hell, we also had a stealth pooper on the campus when I was there. Drew is like everything that's wrong with all of those places, in microcosm.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 9:02 AM on July 25, 2007


So kellygreen, do you like Bennington?
posted by craven_morhead at 9:25 AM on July 25, 2007


I don't know much more about St. John's than anyone would learn in skimming through a college catalog. Perhaps the way teachers and students commonly interact makes it difficult to explore esoteric readings. But I find this somewhat surprising since Jacob Klein was a tutor there for quite a while. I think Strauss commented in a letter to Kojeve that he and Klein were the only ones who had anything to teach him. I wonder how Klein approached Plato there, and if he thought his own understandings were used best in that sort of environment.
posted by BigSky at 9:27 AM on July 25, 2007


Ugh, threads like this only bring out people's bitter stories, and the LIFELONG impression that one or two douchebags from a school left on them.

Yeah, well, I went to the University of Colorado.

Drunken frat boys and date rape? Check. Trustifarians? Check. Doubled as daycare center that the East Coast elite could dump their problem children at for four years? Check. Pretentious profs and the students that love them? Check. Raging, whiny conservatives blaming their English TA for the downfall of civilization because she made them read bel hooks? Check. General local, regional, and national distaste for the school? Check. Tier I school for research with internationally ranked liberal arts program? Check. Maximum suckitude at NCAA sports that don't involve snow or distance running? Check.

CU is Brown, Duke, Antioch, Reed, and UT-Austin all nestled between the mountains and reality. And I loved every minute of it.
posted by dw at 9:31 AM on July 25, 2007


Who is Patrick Bateman in that story, dw. You or him?

I don't know. I never read the book.
posted by dw at 9:32 AM on July 25, 2007


According to that unimpeachable source wikipedia, Strauss spent the last three years of his life as the ‘Scott Buchanan Distinguished Scholar in Residence’ in Annapolis.

Yeah, but I think that was an honorary position and I’m pretty sure he didn't actually teach. I don't think he would have wanted to, anyway.

I find Straussianism to be particularly noxious. It really is in many ways fascist. If nothing else, its elitism is truly repugnant. Strauss, like many bright but weak-souled people, read Republic and misinterpreted it in a pernicious manner and turned that misconception into something of an academic cult. Strauss and his followers have never really impressed me—particularly the neocons “feel” to me like a certain kind of sophomoric mediocrity. This is probably unfair to Strauss and a few others who were/are probably my intellectual superiors, though wrong. There is one tutor of whom I think very highly that is reputed (by a questionable Straussian site) to be a Straussian, but I won’t believe it unless and until I get reliable confirmation of the claim.

It turns out that Mr. Bolotin¹, whom I never had as a tutor, though several of my friends did, was Wolfowitz's freshman dorm roommate at Cornell when they both became ardent Straussians. I don’t know Bolotin well enough to apply the previous judgment to him. Incidentally, when I asked around about him, I was told that his wife is an outspoken leftist.

Anyway, the tutors at St. John’s simply don't have professorial influence to do things like promote Straussianism, if they’re so inclined. Often it’s a big surprise to learn that a certain tutor is very liberal or very conservative. Some tutors exert more influence in tutorial or seminar than others, but even the most active is still no more than a first among equals around the seminar table. And there’s basically zero respect for this sort of authority in tutorial or seminar when it comes to arguing for one position or another on the text. So even when a tutor has an obvious strong interpretation of a text, and is very political about it, students can, and do, often just take it with the same grain of salt as anyone else’s strongly held views around the table of a text.

The anecdote I heard and like to repeat about Strauss and Jacob Klein², the longtime eminent SJC tutor and best friend of Strauss, was that Strauss loved to have acolytes and Klein spurned them. That, to me, says a great deal about the differing ways in which Chicago and St. John’s approached the Great Books.

1. This is a johnnie thing, part of the terminology there that I just can’t feel comfortable translating to conventional nomenclature but that is confusing to outsiders. Instructors are always called “tutors”, there is no other title other than administrative ones. All students and tutors within the classroom (and often outside) are referred to by one of the honorifics, “Mr”, “Miss”, “Mrs”, or “Ms”³. A lot of us use “Ms”, but I’m sad to report that it's not the majority. You’d be surprised at how much influence this respectful formality has on the quality of the discourse, as well as the egalitarian effects in applying it equally to students and instructors. Finally, regular classes are called “tutorials”, and have about 12 students; while the two-hour Monday and Thursday evening classes are called “seminars” which form the backbone of the Great Books reading list. This unusual nomenclature for an American school is confusing, but serves some very utilitarian purposes and doesn't exist merely to obfuscate or culturally signify.
2. Klein and Strauss were both at Marburg, where Klein was perhaps Heidegger’s star student.
3. A good friend of mine addressed Murray Gell-Mann when he and I spoke with Gell-Mann after a lecture as “Mr. Gell-Mann”. My physicist ex-girlfriend, when she heard this, was deeply offended.

posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:35 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Kellygreen:

Excellent defense, counselor. Though I'll forgive you for misspelling my name.

I suspect my experience was colored by the fact that I only met the jr. year abroad crowd, which to generalize again, tends to self-select for a fairly narrow type of student and demographic (though obviously, there are exceptions... notably us nerdy foreign service types).
posted by psmealey at 9:35 AM on July 25, 2007


But I find this somewhat surprising since Jacob Klein was a tutor there for quite a while. I think Strauss commented in a letter to Kojeve that he and Klein were the only ones who had anything to teach him. I wonder how Klein approached Plato there, and if he thought his own understandings were used best in that sort of environment.

BigSky, I think I just answered your question. The pedagogy there is pretty unusual. Tutors simply don't direct the class or “explain” a work to the students. The idea, the very core of the SJC ethos, is that the tutor is a Socratic “midwife”. In practice this doesn’t reflect the contrivances and disingenuous nature of the actual Socratic dialogues. Tutors usually stay out of the way of the students, unless the discussion has gone badly off the rails. Otherwise, they will participate pretty much as another equal around the seminar table. This varies by temperment, of course, but in relative terms to other schools, it's followed strictly. Johnnies are only lectured to during the Friday Night Lecture, and even then it's absolutely required that the lecturer submit themselves to a more egalitarian q&a session afterwards in a more informal (and less authoritarian) setting.

This suits most of us very well. And I think it suits the tutors, well, also. It must, obviously, or how could an opposing teaching temperament stand to teach there? The answer is that they self-select for those who don't feel the need to indoctrinate students in the "right" interpretation of a text.

When I've attended other schools, the conventional arrogance of most instructors drove me absolutely mad with annoyance. It's not that I begrudge anyone, particularly an esteemed scholar, their well-considered opinion on the topic they are teaching. Of course I don't. But the problem is that far too many are arrogant enough to take advantage of the situation and present their view as unquestionable truth. And most students are such sheep, the don't know any better to question this. I mean, this is basic academic politics. On anything that isn't simply a matter of indisputable fact, the nature of our system such that instructors are (elsewhere than SJC) expected to be researchers and carve out a bit of intellectual territory, then it's inescapable that students are utilized as political opportunities.

And, speaking as a johnnie, it's double a problem because the vast majority of topics are taught via secondary (or survey!) sources that present a limited and distorted view of a text. Students think they've learned something, but they've often become less learned than they've become partisans in a struggle they're not even aware exists. Many are not just indoctrinated in the subject matter, but the pedagogy as well, where I've had a number of people tell me straight out that hardly anything can be effectively taught without an instructor to properly interpret and direct the student.

This dim view of students' capabilities is presented as a benign, even a heartfelt, view of the most effective way to teach. And, no doubt, in some cases it is. But in many, it is a fraud perpetrated upon people more honestly interested in learning than are the people purportedly paid to teach them. And while I well understand that johnnies aren't representative of the general population—we are self-selecting and highly motivated learners—nevertheless I've seen firsthand, over and over, just how capable students really can be when their teachers believe in them and trust them to use their own intelligence and judgment. Even when they're just 18 year old kids, right out of high school. Within mere months I watched many such "kids" reach a level of intellectual discipline coupled with earnestness and hard work that I've yet to see in many lifelong academics.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:00 AM on July 25, 2007


I just wrote a whole long screed and then erased it. The main point was "I hate all the east coast centric bullshit that comes from awful east coast people and how so many people there really do seem to believe that there are no other worthwhile regions of the country and, more so, that every other region of the country looks up to them and wishes they could be them if only we were cool enough to be an east coaster. le sigh.."

There that feels better. I did go to Oberlin, I don't live in Brooklyn, I disliked many of the kids from NY at Oberlin but really enjoyed getting to know some awesome people from other parts of the world, and now in Florida the value of my degree is what I actually learned there because when I list my school on my resume people ask me if it was a community college. And why was it so far away? Couldn't you get into University of Florida?

Oh, and Hi Timory.
posted by mosessis at 10:13 AM on July 25, 2007


Correction: for some reason in my first comment I mistakenly wrote "Leo Kaplan" for "Jacob Klein".
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:18 AM on July 25, 2007


To jonmc:

"Please donate to our alumni fund."

Beyond the more than $100,000 to Bennington College I already gave?
posted by kellygreen at 10:36 AM on July 25, 2007


kellygreen, I'll assume you didn't major in Comedy Writing.
posted by jonmc at 10:41 AM on July 25, 2007


the guy with the long hair and halter top is Kelvin Daly. He graduated from Bard College and is in no way a douche-bag despite appearences.

In fact, the picture leads me to think that perhaps someone from Gawker graduated from Bard: most annoying L.A. college evar!
posted by geos at 11:08 AM on July 25, 2007


Cool: Wesleyan's #2; and it's just up the road from me.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:23 PM on July 25, 2007


Americans think way to much about college. (Grinnell College, '84).
posted by MarshallPoe at 2:03 PM on July 25, 2007


It's not that I begrudge anyone, particularly an esteemed scholar, their well-considered opinion on the topic they are teaching. Of course I don't.

Sadly, EB, this attitude is not shared universally by all Johnnies. While most of the Johnnies I've met have been amazingly open-minded, I've noticed a disturbing tendency among some Johnnies to be entirely dismissive of the well-considered opinions of academics at other institutions. I often get the impression that the only opinion that these Johnnies will acknowledge is that of their fellow Johnnies. Admittedly, my perspective on St. John's and Johnnies in general is bound to be different than yours--I'm currently in the Graduate Institute, so I've already had the traditional sitting-in-a-lecture-hall-with-500-other-people college experience. As such, I've certainly seen the kind of arrogance you describe, but I've encountered it at both my undergrad and at St. John's. Perhaps the key difference is that when I encountered arrogance during my undergrad years it was on the part of the professors, whereas at St. John's, in the rare instances that I encounter arrogance, I encounter it in the student body.
posted by joedan at 3:18 PM on July 25, 2007


Evergreen sucks!


< /greener>
posted by stenseng at 4:12 PM on July 25, 2007


It's not that I begrudge anyone, particularly an esteemed scholar, their well-considered opinion on the topic they are teaching. Of course I don't. But the problem is that far too many are arrogant enough to take advantage of the situation and present their view as unquestionable truth.

I don't know what sort of courses you're referring to. Maybe you only mean people insisting that [Author] really means that [Controversial Statement]. But sometimes the prof's view is as close as you're going to get to the truth, or at least to the current best guess at it. There really are only a small minority of adult Americans who think in politically consistent terms. There really is only a small effect of money in congressional elections. Or at least, this is the best we know now, and knowing more is going to be a lengthy and hard-won affair, not a matter of classroom discussion (though how you might go about looking could be).

This dim view of students' capabilities is presented as a benign, even a heartfelt, view of the most effective way to teach. And, no doubt, in some cases it is. But in many, it is a fraud perpetrated upon people more honestly interested in learning than are the people purportedly paid to teach them.

First, let's see you teach a few semesters of introductory courses at a third-tier university and say that again. I don't think you understand how poorly prepared and ill-motivated college students can be. I don't think it ever stops being a little bit shocking when students ask whether they need the book halfway through the course.

Second, "people purportedly paid to teach them" fundamentally misstates the role of professors at all but strictly teaching-only institutions, as I'm sure you're aware.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:57 PM on July 25, 2007


I'm going into my last year at Hampshire. Maybe it's just me, but one of the points against Weslyan sounds like a good thing. Specifically:

"When I filled out my housing forms to enter Wesleyan I had the option of writing in my personal gender expression and whether or not I minded rooming with a person who expressed themselves differently than me"

I don't think it should have been the only housing matching question, but I think that sort of gender awareness is a very good thing for a college to have.

Sorry, I mean oh noes they're liberal and progressive, horrible horrible.
posted by Arturus at 5:28 PM on July 25, 2007


The silly thing isn't that they ask "Do you mind rooming with a homosexual or bisexual person?" it's that they ask in flowery euphemisms instead of clearly and directly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:39 PM on July 25, 2007


Ellis renamed Bennington Camden, but Donna Tartt renamed it Hampden (see what she did there? you don't do that without a liberal-arts education!) in "The Secret History," the best book EVAH.

Classics majors roaming the countryside killing farmers! The creepiest sibling (twin, even) incest since VC Andrews! A great line about how (paraphrased) "Hampden graduates never seemed to do anything but make pottery and open ashrams in Nepal." I mock, I mock, but it is seriously great.
posted by GaelFC at 7:02 PM on July 25, 2007


The silly thing isn't that they ask "Do you mind rooming with a homosexual or bisexual person?" it's that they ask in flowery euphemisms instead of clearly and directly.

That's because the question you're asking is different than what they're asking. Gender identity ≠ sexual preference.
posted by piratebowling at 7:11 PM on July 25, 2007


Gael, thanks for perhaps the best Bennington shoutout ever. I always thought that, between Ellis and Tartt, Bennington was pretty much the Platonic ideal of the SLAC.

(And, seriously, Best. Book. Ever!)
posted by wildeepdotorg at 7:21 PM on July 25, 2007


Just to grab on (by the skin of my teeth) to EB's coat-tails, I'll chime in with a slightly different assessment of St. John's - that, in practical terms, more technical disciplines (physics, music, some of the more modern philosophers, eg) did not lend themselves so well to the St. John's education style, in my experience. Could be simply that I'm too artsy-fartsy to "get" Kant, Hegel, Maxwell, etc., but I sat through those St. John's music classes CERTAIN that my less experienced classmates (I'm a lifelong musician) were just simply ill-equipped to get what was going on at any kind of deep level. I heard rumors that Jacob Klein used to spend a certain number of Kant seminars lecturing the class, just making sure that everyone had a certain basic understanding of the concepts, so as to try to ensure smoother sailing. Don't know if it's true, but lord knows it would have helped me tremendously. Because alternatively, you spend all your time simply trying to grasp the content, rather than asking if it resonates in any meaningful way with you and your experience, with the other authors that you read, etc.

I love St. John's, but didn't Aristotle say something about all things in balance? Well, a strategically-placed lecture is, in my opinion, not such a terrible thing - it won't meaningfully effect the quality of the education. In fact, it would make the subjects of the educational experiment (ie, the students) better suited to undertake the experiment in the first place.

...misty-eyed Johnnie who longs for the gauzy days of yore...
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:24 PM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I certainly agree with you about the music tutorial, fof. Not that it could use some lecturing, but that it doesn't quite work. Did you see the discussion of the history of he music tutorial and the changes to it in Santa Fe in the most recent alumni magazine?

The music tutorial is hard because even more than the math and science in junior year, the majority of johnnies have zero experience in the subject. Like you, as a longtime musician and, in fact, someone who had been a music major elsewhere, the music tutorial was easy for me. But I noticed that it was tremendously hard for others. And, for the non-johnnies out there, like everything else at St. John's, we're not talking about "an appreciation of music" type of class, here, we're talking about the equivalent of several classes at conservatory or as a college music major.

Nevertheless, I don't think a lecture style will help.

While I was at SJC in Santa Fe, myself and two friends who were also johnnies decided to take a C++ course at Santa Fe Community College. The class was about 12 students, so we were about 1/4 of it. And we were current johnnies. As you might imagine, this was sort of weird. We had a hard time adjusting to a typical classroom and we asked a lot of questions and there was friction between how active we were compared to how passive the other students were.

But I really felt strongly at the time, and still do, that the class would have worked well if it had been taught the way that math classes at SJC were taught. This was an intro course, so it really was sort of comparable to, say, Euclid. We could have read about certain algorithms and certain technical programming things like syntax, and then be expected to write out a small piece of code on the board before the rest of the class, with discussion as you do so. Again, I think the participatory nature of the pedagogy of the College is a much better approach than the passivity of traditional lecturing. People learn by doing, not by listening.

Even so, I admit that my beliefs about this are strongly colored by my own personal temperment. Unlike a lot of johnnies, I don't believe that an SJC education is right for everyone. But I do think that the one size fits all lecturing approach at traditional undergrad US universities (and most elsewhere) is a big mistake in the other direction.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:30 AM on July 26, 2007


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