Where Plato Is Your Professor

Graduating from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland—or Santa Fe, New Mexico—guarantees a place in the Republic

St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland. It's a small institution, and old—it traces its origins back to 1696—but its curriculum is far older, yet startlingly new. This little college requires its students to read and discuss the best works by the best minds throughout 2,500 years of Western culture. In small tutorials, they discuss with a tutor and with one another the assigned pages for the day. In the larger seminars, conversations dig deeply into the great work that they are reading at the time. In science laboratories, they carry out experiments that first taught us the facts about our world.

There are only 450 students here. A newer, second campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico, adds another 450. But the college has a relatively enormous faculty of tutors—one to about eight students. That's right—tutors. No one is called a professor at St. John's.

The school's formidable, fascinating educational method got started in 1937 after two extraordinary scholars and teachers, Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr, sized up the little college as perfect for a curriculum consisting entirely of the compulsory reading of carefully chosen books. Great books.

Today, as for more than a century and a half, St. John's shares the laurels for higher learning with its Annapolis neighbor, the United States Naval Academy.

The interface between the two schools is the annual matchup for the Annapolis Cup. This contest is one of St. John's few outside sports competitions. And what's the game? Croquet!

Though croquet obsesses the Johnnies every spring, many other sports—mostly intramural—flourish at St. John's.

A survey of colleges and universities determined how many leaders in every field they produce relative to their size. St. John's ranked 30th. Not a bad record. There are more than 1,400 four-year colleges in this country.

St. John's graduates leave with an inner security that comes from intellectual maturity. They've already met the reality of human existence from their four-year immersion in the growth of Western culture. A Johnny, like Naval Academy graduate Jimmy Carter, could become President. Maybe that wouldn't be a bad idea.

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