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Why St. John’s? Reflections of a UWC student

Posted on behalf of Szymon Galazka

Before we ask ourselves “Why should I go to St. John’s?”, we can ask more general questions, such as, “what is a valuable college education?” and, more generally, “what is education?” Not that long ago, you might have asked yourself very similar questions when you were contemplating applying to the UWCs – “Why UWCs and not any other educational movement or institution?” Reflecting on the experience we have had at UWCs should be all we need to become aware of the seriousness of this question and its consequences.

UWC started as an answer to the question, “What is education?” Many of you know about Kurt Hahn, who extended the ideas he had learnt as a philosophy major to the educational institutions he opened. In his educational philosophy, Hahn strived to connect the academic with the experiential, having learnt how significant both of them are for the development of intellectual, moral, political and physical habits; in these habits he saw the growth of balanced, young persons, who would be ready to fulfill their potential.

The manner in which St. John’s aims to develop habits among its students and graduates differs slightly from that of UWC. St. John’s College, after all, is a liberal arts college, not an institution for young people aged 16-19. The goal, nonetheless, remains the same. Like at UWC, here we are dedicated to the free pursuit of knowledge for its own sake; equipped and ready to master different skills, we aim to develop a sense of intelligent and critical appreciation of our social and moral obligations.

This also means that at St. John’s students do not learn vocations, for the attachment to a specific vocation does not free a person and their mind, but instead chains them to a specific occupation. In these rapid-changing economic conditions in which young people switch fields of employment many times, and where shifts in technology make some vocations redundant, we do not value preparing students for a very specific field.  

Does this mean that at St. John’s we try to prepare the students for every single environment? Not exactly, as that would be impossible. But in another way, we do prepare students for every environment by granting them something that is universal: an intellectual power that comes from a genuine will to learn.  

Modern institutions tend focus on preparing students for markets, which largely looks past the immense beauty and inherent benefit of education. The global discussion on the desirability of STEM based education focuses not on the benefits of education, but the monetary benefits of the vocation.

St. John’s has stood against this general trend in education since the introduction of our educational curriculum 80 years ago. We look at texts, be it Platonic dialogues or scientific papers, that have shaped mankind, as we explore ideas and themes that have perplexed us for centuries. Our conversations require us to rise beyond our initial impulses, to think beyond our tastes and emotional responses to try to understand wholly, even if we eventually choose to disagree.

It is true that we look at the past, but we do so with the aim of changing tomorrow, and the day after. Any community and any person that does not do so falls into the trap of decay. Don’t you make decisions in light of your experiences of the past? Could the opposite  even be possible? We learn about our common past for the sake of positive change in our future.

Szymon Galazka

The student writing staff of the johnnie chair blog

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