This morning, at Gutenberg College in Eugene, Oregon, students are gathering for discussions over a great text. The tutor, serving as mentor and coach, will guide them through an intense dialogue on what Plato, Milton, or Melville have to say to the young adult of the 21st century. Each student will form and defend his opinion, then confront the challenges his position engenders.
Gutenberg students lead the way among the growing number of college students following the classical model.
Homeschoolers with a bent toward classical education have been especially eager to find schools to round out their work, schools that interact with great ideas, teach with an emphasis on discussion and interaction, and respect the scholars while preparing them for moral responsibility and leadership. Yet homeschooling parents often run into a dilemma when selecting their children's college. Parents and students yearn for a school where learning occurs, the law of God is not mocked, and students are prepared to make godly decisions in an ungodly world. But where to look?
The most famous "classical" college is St. John's College in Annapolis. Chartered in 1784 by the State of Maryland, and with a campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico, St. John's is famous for pioneering the Great Books/Great Discussion approach promoted by Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler. The curriculum consists of seminars in which the great books are discussed; language, math, and music tutorials; and science laboratories. Once per week students listen to a lecture by a tutor or guest. Afterward, students and faculty question the lecturer. In the junior and senior years a preceptorial is added. Now the student engages in tutor-directed study of a topic or text.
St. Johns is a secular institution, known for raising questions without answering them. The Christian who needs an intellectual challenge may thrive here, but the moral tone is liberal with an undertone of despair. Christianity is treated with respect, but the Bible is not regarded as authoritative.
Admissions are based primarily on an application essay and interview, strong academic background in the secondary years, and letters of recommendation. SAT or ACT scores are not required but may be useful. Tuition is expensive.
Thomas Aquinas College is a Catholic Liberal Arts college founded in 1971 in Santa Paula, California. Believing that only the truth sets men free and that truth concerns both natural and supernatural matters, TAC seeks to ground its students in the arts of thinking, while developing a wide-ranging, integrated vision of life and learning. The curriculum parallels the St. John's program, using tutorials, seminars, and laboratories to explore the great ideas in groups of 14-20 students. Socratic discussions and great books replace lectures and textbooks.
Thomas Aquinas is particularly homeschool friendly. 76 percent of their 301 students come from home or private schools. Admissions are based on essays, transcripts (including a list of courses and books read for homeschoolers), letters of reference, and SAT or ACT scores.
The University of Dallas is a Catholic liberal arts college founded in 1956. While St. John's and Thomas Aquinas offer few or no electives, Dallas's Constantin College offers a core curriculum and majors. The core includes Philosophy, English, Mathematics and Fine Arts, Science, Languages, American and Western Civilization, Politics, Economics, and Theology. After finishing the core curriculum in the first two years, the student proceeds to his major in the humanities or sciences.
The curriculum seeks to develop the intellectual and moral virtues needed to understand oneself and one's relationship to God, nature, and other humans in order to live responsibly in the changing world.
Admissions for homeschoolers are based on an application essay, a letter of recommendation, a high school transcript, SAT I or ACT scores, a personal interview, and the Home Education Information Form provided by the school.
Two recently founded colleges appealing to the classical student are Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, and New St. Andrew's College in Moscow, Idaho.
New St. Andrews College (NSA) in Moscow, Idaho, is a ministry of Christ Church, where Douglas Wilson is pastor, and an extension of the classical Christian renewal occurring through the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. After opening with four full-time students in 1994, NSA expanded to nearly 100 students in 2000. NSA rejects the notion of academic neutrality, believing that, "In the business of the classroom . . . confessional, applied Christianity is tragically absent" from many modern Christian colleges. NSA emphasizes the study of classical antiquity, western civilization, and Christ's lordship over every human endeavor.
Teacher-student interaction and scholarship are the keynotes of the NSA approach. The courses are divided into colloquia, or yearlong courses, in language (Latin and Greek) and culture (Lordship, Rhetoric, Theology, Music, Literature, Classical culture and history, and electives). Students meet for seminars 1-3 times per week and for occasional recitations with tutors. Disputations take place weekly. Oral exams occur at the end of each term. Seniors seeking a B.A. degree must present and defend a thesis in public.
NSA welcomes homeschoolers. Admissions are based on high-school transcripts or homeschool course work descriptions, SAT or ACT scores, a statement of faith, an essay written by the student on why he wishes to attend NSA, a copy of an academic essay, and a questionnaire filled out by the student's pastor.
Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA, is the first college founded primarily for homeschoolers. Michael Farris, founder and president of HSLDA, is also the founder and president of Patrick Henry College. Promoting Christian character with a smile, PHC teaches the classical liberal arts from within the Christian worldview to nurture American leaders endowed with virtue, leadership skills, and understanding of the traditions of freedom.
The core of the PHC curriculum is the classical liberal arts program. The government major is built on this foundation and involves "the most intensive apprenticeship program in the nation," while also covering every facet of government and public policy. The other classical liberal arts majors are creative writing and education. Future majors will include business, media arts, information technology, and journalism.
Admissions to PHC are based on academic preparation, test scores, letters of reference, and evidence of Christian maturity. Tuition is inexpensive.
Finally, the new and small Gutenberg College grew out of the McKenzie Study Center, a mission to the students at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Gutenberg believes that education should go beyond preparing students to earn a living to preparing students to live a good life. Tutors seek to develop the students' reasoning skills, to teach a broad knowledge base, and to help students learn to live wisely.
In 2001, Gutenberg's 22 students followed a Great Books/tutorial curriculum in a warm family environment. 83 percent of the students came from homeschooling backgrounds. Since most of the Gutenberg staff also homeschool their children, the students have found an understanding environment. The program, though similar to that of TAC and St. John's, is approached from a Protestant perspective.
Gutenberg College regards learning as an apprenticeship. Students are not told what to think; rather, they are presented with perennial issues, shown various solutions, and trained in how to evaluate them.
Admissions to Gutenberg are based on written essays, high school performance, SAT tests, and a meeting with a school representative. Along with the Great Books discussions, scholars study mathematics, writing, science, Greek and German. And tuition is inexpensive.
Saint John's College
PO Box 2800
Annapolis, MD 21401
1160 Camino Cruz Blanca
Santa Fe, NM 87505
Thomas Aquinas College
10000 N. Ojai Road
Santa Paula, CA 93060.
Fax: (805) 525-9342
University of Dallas
1845 East Northgate Drive
Irving, TX 75062
1833 University Street
Eugene, OR 97403
Patrick Henry College
P.O. Box 1776
Purcellville, VA 20134-1776
New St. Andrew's College
PO Box 9025
Moscow, Idaho 83843