Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sharing from a Malaysian Johnnie

Thanks to Guan Tyng for sharing on his experience studying there at St. John's College.


I am sorry for not being "keep in touch" via email as I was too occupied with stuffs in getting used with the altitude in Santa Fe (which is 7000 feet ++!!!), despite the culture of the school. I guess you have already experienced of the food and the culture in US, so I will share my learning experience in St. John's College. Please do not hesitate to share this to anyone who is interested in liberal arts college.
Well, after having the class here for a week, I found that St. John's College is really for me and I love it so much. It is a truly liberal arts college and you get to learn the fundamental stuffs in every field.
Instead of learning the cutting edge technologies or getting informed with the current issues, we grill on the ancient knowledge and wisdom; instead of getting all the iinformation in the class from a single professor, we have 15 - 20 voices sharing our views around the table; instead of learning the definitive
answers/solutions, we are asked to ask questions and to question answers, even the notions given by Plato, Socrates, Euclid and Aristotle.
Every Monday and Thursday, everyone in St. John's attend seminar for 2 hours to discuss deeply about a certain reading with 2 tutors. For instance, the Freshmen are reading Iliad by Homer, Sophomores are now drilling somewhere in The Bible, Juniors are trying to find some sense from Descartes and the Seniors are facing the Faust by Goethe. In the past few seminars that I had, we have a few very fundamental yet interesting questions: What is justice? What is pride? What is honor? Why would dishonoring enrage human?
In my first laboratory classes, I was pretty surprised. Our tutor (we call them "tutor" because they are not there to profess their ideas but to guide.) brought us to a meadow nearby and ask us to find something that interests us to draw for an hour, if we can, about life and death. The purpose of drawing was not training us to become artists but to cultivate our power of observation. After a 15 minutes of looking an a certain thing (for me, it was a plant), we got bored very easily. But, we took our time to draw as real as we could and eventually, we found something which we didn't notice at the first few minutes of observation. After the practice, we were asked to show our drawings and discuss about them. From the discussion, we all get to know about different perspectives of how people see life and death. The tutor even asked questions like: Why are these plants having a certain kind of pattern? Why are the leafs and flowers arranged in a certain order (e.g. in the order of Fibonacci Numbers)? Is this the work of Nature or is it just our mind searching for the orders to be satisfied? and goess on... Albeit we did not conclude on these questions, but we had at least, shared our different views and different ideas on the questions rose. We were also encouraged to present our doubts to the class so that everyone learn from the perplexity itself.
Besides the two classes above, I also attend Language Classes which I learn Ancient Greek and Math Classes which we started on Euclid's Element. Instead of having an experienced tutor who just gives out idea to us, the tutor sort of learn together with us. The tutor can be from a totally different field of study and those who are inexperienced in the field that they are teaching, they will participate as a student to learn with us but also guide the class to perform in a constructive way. Another very interesting class that I have now is the Freshman Music, which only takes a class per week. This class is designed to prepare the Freshman to be able to take up the Sophormore Music Classes. Now, we start to sing in Greek and discuss about the fundamentals of music and etc.
On top of everything, if you haven't notice it, every classes in my Freshman Year is related to Greek, to some extend respectively. To clarify, every classes in St. John's is all required and there will be no options for every single students here. The only thing that is optional is the Preceptorials, in which students in Junior Year and the Senior Year will choose a certain reading and work on it together with a tutor.
Another interesting about St. John's is that, we have no final papers/exams and we do not review our performances based on grades. Instead, we will have a review session together with our tutor which we call the Don Rag and the tutor will give us advice in how to improve ourselves, either in reading, writing and speaking. Though, we all do have a conservative grades but those are only given to the student upon request and mostly for the purpose of scholarships, internships, loans, career or graduate school application. Generally, St. John's students do not work for grade but for their learning experience.
Oh... It's really late now. I really need to get some rest.
Thank you for your time to read and also your advices that I have got from you.
Best wishes,
Guan Tyng, Tan

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