Most radical and classical is an experiment in U.S. higher education being conducted at little St. John's College (Annapolis, Md.). St. John's is trying a plan advocated by University of Chicago's President Robert Maynard Hutchins, who is also chairman of St. John's governing board. Mr. Hutchins' theory is that the best way to learn to think is to study how great thinkers thought. His plan for a college education: reading and discussing the 100 greatest books of the past.
Last year St. John's redhaired, natty President Stringfellow Barr, ex-Rhodes Scholar and onetime Chicago professor, picked out the 100 greatest classics, let freshmen choose whether they would begin under the new curriculum or the old elective system. Chosen authors, some of whom are represented by more than one book:
Language and Literature: Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Lucian, the Old Testament, Horace, Ovid, Livy, Virgil, the New Testament, Quintilian, Dante, Volsunga Saga, the Song of Roland, Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Milton, Rabelais, Corneille, Racine, Molière, Erasmus., Montaigne, Montesquieu, Grotius.
Liberal Arts: Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Lucretius, Aurelius, Cicero, Plotinus, Augustine, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Calvin, Spinoza, Francis Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume.
Mathematics and Science: Euclid, Nicomachus, Aristarchus, Apollonius, Ptolemy, Archimedes, Aristoxenus, Strabo, Leonardo, Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Kepler, Harvey, Gilbert, Newton, Leibnitz, Boyle.
This fall, freshmen entering St. John's had no option. For four years they will study in classes only the 100 classics, no modern thinkers, no modern science. They are required to learn passages from the classics by heart, take frequent quizzes. Only departure from the 100 books: students may listen to a college collection of symphonic phonograph records, learn to play the piano.
Twenty freshmen started the new curriculum in its first year. By last week two had flunked out, five others had quit. But the 13 survivors were excited about their novel course, their crack teachers. Said Student Bowen Weisheit: "These fellows teach differently from any teachers I ever had. I don't know how it is, but there's something they do that just makes it click."
Meanwhile, the college of the 100 classics had run afoul of its first big snag. Some immortal thinkers are out of print, others have never been translated from the original Greek or Latin. To rescue their imperishable thoughts from oblivion and make them available to its students, St. John's has had to make its own translations, print its own copies of such thinkers as Nicomachus, Apollonius, Lucian, Gilbert, Aristarchus.
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