Summer Academy

Dissecting Freedom: St. John’s Summer Academy 2014

By Steven Kolock

Memories once made, fade all too quickly. For two fleeting weeklong sessions in July, students from all over the world gathered together at St. John’s College in Annapolis to take part in the Summer Academy, where attendance this year was double that of last year!

The St. John’s College Summer Academy offers high school juniors and seniors a taste of college life at St. John’s. They live in the dormitories, eat in the Randall dining hall, play sports, and take classes together in an environment of lively discussion. All of these compose a singular experience of what life is like at the College.

A group of the St. John’s College Summer Academy participants on a field trip to Washington D.C. where they visited the monuments and memorials.

Week 1: Foundations of Freedom

Readings: Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution, Lincoln’s Speeches, The Federalist Papers, Supreme Court Cases, Douglass’s Speeches, Plato’s Republic, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Rousseau

“The name of the game is not instructing one’s fellows, or even persuading them, but thinking with them and trusting the argument to lead to understanding, some times to very unexpected understandings”

This excerpt from Stringfellow Barr’s Notes on Dialogue– the first reading of the week – perfectly articulates the mindset the Summer Academy students needed to examine the readings listed above in their effort to uncover the grounds of human freedom.

In addition to discussions, students partook in trips around the Maryland / D.C. area. The first off-campus trip was to a plantation in southern Maryland. On the second trip the students went to the Newseum which was followed by a guided tour of the monuments and memorials in Washington D.C. At the Lincoln Memorial there was a reverent silence for the uncharacteristically-sedentary emancipator whose great words, that the students had discussed days before, are engraved on the inner walls. If Lincoln left this mark on any Academy participants, we count the venture a success.

Week 2: The Heart of the Matter

Readings: Harvey, Dante, Montaigne’s Of Cannibals, Pascal, Borges’s Funes the Memorious, Molière’s Le Misanthrope, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Dostoyevsky

After days of reading Harvey’s On the Motion of the Heart and Blood, the Summer Academy students dissected sheep hearts – the undisputed highlight of the week. Even though the text is a scientific work, Harvey wrote it in narrative form with which the students engaged in open conversation.

The trip for the second weeklong session of the Summer Academy was to the National Gallery of Art where the students participated in a scavenger-hunt activity put together by Lucinda Edinberg, the Art Director of the Mitchell Gallery at St. John’s College.

The purpose of the Summer Academy, on a surface level, is to introduce high school juniors and seniors to college students and faculty, to engage them in extracurriculars, and to host them for two weeks in dorm-hall comfort. On a more fundamental level, what it seeks is the liberation of the mind through the wonder of liberal education where those who dare to ask the first question truly make a beginning in dialogue. This dialogue is hard to accomplish in just one week. However, those who recognize the opportunity for human flourishing that the College offers know that the 2014 participants of the Summer Academy had their eyes opened. The Summer Academy strives to impart the knowledge to high school juniors and seniors that there are necessary discussions being had at St. John’s College, and these discussions will continue be had for many years to come.

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