The Program

Divergent Thinking and the Great Books

By A.J. Peters

By the end of the first semester of my Junior year of high school, I had become bored of school. Class was tedious, tiresome, and almost unbearable. I was a good student in high school, by all traditional measures of the word. I worked hard. But I wanted to learn. And by junior year, that became a problem. To sit in class was to enter the doldrums; it’s hard to care when no one around you cares. And learning becomes difficult when it doesn’t seem to matter.

This dissatisfaction was what ultimately led me to St. John’s. As I watched my peers just skim the Sparknotes, and felt the pull to do the same, I began to long for a place where people were interested. I remember coming home one evening from the local library with a copy of Loren Pope’s 40 Colleges that Change Lives.  Stumbling upon schools like Hampshire or Evergreen, where I would be given no grades and study only what interested me, I felt as if I had come upon a lost island of education, for lack of something less cliché. I had decided that the root of all evil in high school was the pressure of grades—students became more interested in an “A” than in learning. And almost as monstrous was the curriculum; to confine students to consider only the establish topics was to remove any possibility of creativity.

Which is why I still laugh a bit when I think about the fact that I ended up at St. John’s. While I was initially drawn to schools where I could study whatever I pleased, I ended up at a school with perhaps the most rigid program in the country. I realized, at some point or another, that while at other places I could read whatever I wanted, at St. John’s I could think whatever I wanted. Instead of diversifying my bookshelf (although that happens here as well), St. John’s would help me diversify my thoughts, my ideas—something that seemed ultimately much more important.

The video below is a great little discourse on what St. John’s is all about—divergent thinking—the process of generating many different ideas or solutions for a given topic. (This same concept is behind the solution to the broken windshield wipers in Rory’s post on President Nelson’s speech).  The whole video is very worthwhile, but at the very least watch from 6:34 to the end.

Do you agree with the narrator’s description of the current education system? And Johnnies, do you think St. John’s is a successful antidote to the issues outlined?

1 comment on “Divergent Thinking and the Great Books

  1. A wonderfully interesting blog post! I watched the entire video; it’s great! I’ve had similar lingering feelings for a few years now. I’m glad to now have a video that so nicely summarizes them!!


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