Shimer College, A Different College. Chicago’s Liberal Arts School; Rolling Admissions, Scholarships


A Great Books school is a college where people read only source documents instead of text books. They have generally very small-sized class discussions of usually no more than twelve students having discussions concerning these texts. The reason that they’re chosen is that they make possible the kind of conversations about fundemental issues. I think it’s pretty clear to everybody who’s here all the time that everything you read has a purpose, has a point, has a message, and that’s it a pretty important one. The student-teacher ratio is pretty small, I mean, every classroom is a maximum twelve people to one teacher. So much active learning goes on in the interchange between students in the classroom and students and the instructor, but I’d say with the students interacting. At Shimer, we don’t call our professors “professors,” we call them “facilitators” because it’s based on the idea that they’re not there to profess to you, they’re not there to teach to you. They’re there to facilitate a discussion. When I’m sitting there with ten students around a table and a copy of Newton’s “Principia” in front of us, I’m not the teacher. Newton is the teacher. I am there helping the students learn from Newton physics. He’s a better teacher than I am so I think that’s the best thing to give them anyway. I consider that, in fact, probably my major job in the classroom is to work with the dymanics, but make sure that the class is really focusing on the central issues to the text, and making connections with other texts. Sometimes in class people might get emotionally charged about particular issues. I think what I love about seeing that is that this is a place where a lot of people really care about we’re reading and the ideas that we’re talking about. One of the most unique things about Shimer is the classroom setting. There really isn’t teachers and students, it’s kind of just a gathering of people sitting around this big octagonal table. There is no sense of hierarchy. There is a mutual respect and I never feel as if “Well, I’m the expert.” We’re encouraged to put ourselves out there and to argue a viewpoint that might not be something we would traditionally accept, or may be completely in opposition to either the text or maybe even the facilitator. The goal is to be genuine, and if you genuinely have a question, to ask it. And to be comfortable with not knowing, or being confused, or “sounding stupid.” I’ve become very comfortable with that. The fact that you are in Chicago. Really a world-class city. If you really get out there, it’s a phenomenal resource. Access to all of the cultural amenities and benefits that Chicago provides, both on the university level and on the public level with things like the Art Institute and the Symphony Orchestra and stuff like that. It’s a great metal scene. I’m into metal, I play metal. I also love the cinema in Chicago. There’s a lot of really cool small art theaters. It’s cool being in a big city when it’s like the whole city is your campus. We share this space with an internationally known and respected technical college, Illinois Institute of Technology. Also on the campus is VanderCook School of Music. Shimer has a cross-registration agreement with those schools. It’s really easy to pick and choose what you’re interested in. If it’s not at Shimer, and you can’t get a tutorial or an elective started at Shimer about it, you can conceivably go to IIT or Harold Washington or VanderCook. I’ve cross-registered at VanderCook, which is the music school that’s also on campus. I do want to take an architecture class at IIT. I’ve also done courses at Harold Washington in statistics and art. I cross-registered for a class in abnormal psychology my second semester here. When you figure out that not only do you get access to four or five colleges in Chicago alone, but that you can go to England and get credits that don’t interfere with your graduation. It’s like a whole world opening up. Like any other slightly arrogant high schooler, of course you would want to be able to Oxford without actually having to get in. If you have a really obscure desire to learn something very obscure, it’s much more possible to do that in Oxford. For the students that were there, it was a transformative experience. Shimer students and staff and faculty and Board of Trustees get a share in how the college is governed. It’s not one body laying down the law, it’s everyone involved having a say and pitching in together to create what they want this place to be. You get to hear everything that’s being voted through, everything that’s being proposed, and your voice is completely heard. Shimer represented a way for me to take control of my education in a way that I didn’t have the ability to do either at my high school or at most colleges I looked at. I visited my junior year and I absolutely fell in love with it. I was obsessed with it, and I kept talking about it. Once I came to my mother saying “I found this great school called Shimer that is just so amazing and I don’t want to go anywhere else.” She went: “I wanted to go to Shimer.” So she completely supports me and she loves the fact that I’m here. At Shimer, your son, your daughter will learn to find her or his own voice. They will gain a kind of courage. I’ve had a lot of people tell me: “Liberal arts degree, what are you going to do with that?” It wasn’t strictly knowledge that they gave me, it was more a methodology of how to approach complex problems with critical reasoning, critical thought. At Shimer, you’re taught to think critically at every point. You’re not just listening, you’re listening and you’re really deconstructing what’s being said. The kind of skills that the world needs in terms of being able to communicate, being able to evaluate, being able to speak one’s mind, are part and parcel of what Shimer is. It just changes the way that I look at the world, myself, and other people. I feel like that is the most practical thing of all. I remember sitting there and asking the facilitators, “Have you guys figured it out? Do you guys have an answer?” And them looking at me saying, “Welcome to the club.”

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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