The Value of a St. Johns Education

Question: how does one validate the St. John’s Program? How does one explain the value of dialectic to the pragmatist

William:
This is just off the top of my head, gut reaction: it is one thing to “learn” but quite another thing to “learn HOW to learn.” In 1978 I taught myself how to be a computer operator (that was actually a job in those days.) While working as an operator I taught myself to program in a language called RPG II. I got a job as a programmer and then I taught myself Cobol. In high school I was convinced I had a “math block” and could not “do math.” St. John’s taught me that I could do math and calculus. I failed chemistry twice in high school. After St. John’s I made myself take 2 semesters of chemistry and got an A. I learned how to think on my feet and talk persuasively. I learned to question authority rather than just take things for granted. Let’s look at a REVERSE ARGUMENT which goes against the technology of the pragmatist. Engineering has a half-life of 10 years. In the 1950s it was vacuum tubes. In the 1960s it was transistors, in the 1970s it was integrated circuits, etc. So people who trained in engineering eventually moved into management or sales. Now what is sales? Sales is being a fast talker and perhaps making the weaker argument defeat the stronger. The SJC Program is TIMELESS. It may be the case that you never make money from what you learn at SJC but what you learn there never becomes obsolete.

St. John’s happened to be the best place for me because I do not perform well with traditional exams. I did not realize until after SJC how fortunate I was to be there and not have to keep memorizing and cramming and taking written exams. Some people were a whiz at memorizing and taking exams and cramming at the last minute but when it came time for them to write an essay about something they were at a loss. Different topic: I had a long talk once with a PhD in clinical psychology. He told me that for several years he went to a committee each week and argued over every single paragraph and sentence of his dissertation until they finally reached the lowest common denominator of consensus about what the university was willing to publish. He suffered through it to get his degree so he could become a consultant. I talked to another PhD candidate at Yale. I wanted to talk with him about some unusual and interesting things I was reading on my own. He said “I envy you that you can dwell upon these fascinating things because I have to grind out boring statistics every day to produce my thesis and earn my degree. I had a math professor at the Univ. of New Haven where I took some calculus courses. He was on a path to a PhD in Mathematics in topology that would have taken him 10 years. He decided he was wasting his time so he took a masters degree, left, and did a PhD in Computer science at UConn because he could make some money from that and there was no real money or future in topology.

SJC, some people love it, some people hate it, and the rest are people who love to hate it. As for nuggets, I am sure the college website and catalog is full of such nuggets. Actually you know what is very good is the Wiki article on SJC. I came across it just the other week. It is very long. I will look for the link and post it.

From an engineering/science/math point of view… I would say that you get 4 years of a real look at model theory, from Euclid, to Ptolemy’s epicycles, Appolonius, Descarte Newton’s Calculus, Non-Euclidean, Relativity and Quantum… plus, the century of debates that nailed down atomism (the Cannizaro papers, I think) and Millikan’s Oil Drop… the fruit-fly experiments… Galileo’s Two New Sciences… ALL THAT has to be worth more than just grinding out answers with differential equations… hey, you know how they find an integral in a lab…. the graph the sucker, cut out the area under the curve, WEIGH IT, and estimate the area under the curve… : one word definitions – DERIVATIVE=SLOPE, INTEGRAL=AREA, double integral=volume, triple integral is volume of a 4space object… or something like that

there is a youtube post of 9 minutes from a St. John’s film where Jacob Klein as dean talks to a student who wants to drop out… I mean its not engineering…. one day a young little fish went to a wise old fish and asked how he could find the ocean… of course the wise old fish said “its all around us” ..

Aristotle says on page 1 of Metaphysics, that philosophy (science) did not start until Egypt had a leisure priest class… cause when you spend 18 hours a day in the field looking at the wrong side of an ox, plowing… you aint got much time or energy left for abstract thought, discovery, innovation

Jacob Kline – who, by the way, used to say: “we become what we are.” He meant that a newborn infant is in no sense an adult as it lies there in its crib, helpless, and yet it is an adult inchoate in that it has the potential within it to develop into what we consider an adult.

In one sense, we become what we are. In a different sense, we are what we become.

If you are born with no fingers then you do not “have it in you” to become a pianist. If you were born with twenty fingers, then perhaps you could play the piano in a way that no other can play.

One day in the early 1970s I was in the Yale Co-op book store, in the checkout line, and the man behind me was carrying an ENTIRE ARMFUL of 10 books which were all commentaries on Plato’s Republic. I explained to him that I had graduated from SJC and was impressed with his purchases. He sneered and scowled and said, “there may possible be room in the world for ONE SJC but certainly not more than one.” The he walked away with his stack of commentaries. I felt sorry for him. He seemed kind of pathetic. Actually, speaking of pathetic with regard to college teaching… there is a fabulous youtube about a student who comes to a professor for a recommendation to do graduate work in literature. I will find it and post it. I think it sums up a lot of things about our times. Oh, by the way, one person on my FB list is a full professor, tenured, and a published novelist. One day I speculated that on-line internet study could replace the traditional campus. He became upset and said that nothing could replace the human element of the nurturing professor as a role model. Another grad student in turn scoffed at the idea that any professor is accessible or nurturing. SJC ranks #1 in accessibility to instructors (tutors, professors, whatever)

I sympathize with your view, but it often seems to me that the majority of Americans despise intellectuals. Just the other week a news journalist said with great scorn “Oh the asked Obama about thus and such but he answered like a Harvard law professor.” Well, duh… he is an intellectual. There is actually a 30 something white woman in my 27 story building near Wall Street who swears up and down that she really wants Rush Limbaugh to be the next president… and I questioned her carefully to see if she is being sarcastic, but she is dead serious. Rush sang a song to the tune of “Puff The Magic Dragon” with the lyrics “Barack the magic N!gr@” (take that you FB bots)… I have met people who want “Joe the Plumber” to lead the nation. Adelai Stevenson was a genuine intellectual. One admirer said “Mr. Stevenson you are EVERY thinking man’s choice.” And Stevenson answered “I know, but I need a MAJORITY to win. …. I GREATLY admire Wm Shatner since the 1960s in Twilight Zone. He has reinvented himself countless times. While it is true that he is a media whore, he is SUPPOSED to be a media whore for that is how he makes his living. BUT when you see him on stage with Palin doing a routine and walking off stage hand in hand, that means Palin is a media whore. Media whores do not make great world leaders. But look at what the world wants. They want 10 Judge Judy shows and 20 reality shows. They only want one Charlie Rose show and one Nova and one History Channel. I live in the heart of NYC, next to PACE and NYU. I haund bookstores. I talk to everyone I meet. You can hardly find a person who wants to talk about ideas. We life in a wasteland. Woodrow Wilson was the only president who ever had a PhD (ok I know he was a crummy president.) Nixon for all his problems had passed the bar and could read a financial statement. Sorry for my soap box… I am just kind of reacting to these threads with thoughts that seem somehow pertinent. Look what happened to Al Gore. Ok he won a Nobel. I guess he was an intellectual. Do we want intellectuals? When Obama was campaigning, some journalist said he would rather talk to a regular guy who would discuss his bowling score (honest to God that’s what he said).

Take a look at this brief biography of Ramanujan, a poor boy in India with an uncanny gift for number theory… and then muse upon his relationship to his society and the institutions of formal education http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/biography/Ramanujan.html

Stop and ask yourself how Thoreau or Emily Dickinson fit into the society and educational institutions of their times. They DIDNT, they were MISFITS, the were reclusive, like Ramanujan, or the poet Fernando Pessoa or Jorge Luis Borges. Consider Sartre writing his major work in a prisoner of war camp. Consider Camus. Each century produces these rebel misfits who go off into secluded corners and produce something WHICH THE COULD NEVER HAVE PRODUCED IF THEY HAD FIT INTO THE NORMATIVE MOLD… and then what happens, there is a long period of society forgetting their stuff in a trunk, and then periods of criticism and denial and mockery, and then periods of rediscovery, and then periods of acceptance. How do these oddballs fit into the educational machinery of our societies. They do NOT. They are like random comets appears a few times each century. When the Wright Bros. first developed the airplane they went to the government to sell it as an observation device. The government scoffed “our military runs on calvary, not your faddish novel machines.” MacArthur started his military career commanding some cavalry. By the end he had jet squadrons under his command. So tell me, please, someone, the curriculum that will transform our next generation and make them even WANT to do something that does not involve IPhone, and Xbox, and Facebook, etc.

BEST ANSWER: For practical people, the coursework you took in college is far less important than what you can do right now. Any BA has perceived value to a potential employer. But, unless it is from a very small set of schools, a BA is a BA is a BA is a BA. Thus, for many employers, a St. John’s BA is just as valuable as one from the University of This State. No more or no less. The BA means that you are able to learn something. Employers like that. They like employees who are able to learn things. But, it usually doesn’t say much more than that. That said, a degree from St. John’s does have some goodwill value in certain communities. And, lucky for you, one of those communities is the very exclusive set of employers who wear a Naval Academy class ring. This, of course, has nothing to do with the St. John’s program itself; it has everything to do with the fact that Naval Academy graduates all seem to remember that St. John’s was a very special school, filled with very intelligent weirdos. When discussing the practical value of a given university degree, it is best to recall that one the greatest values such a degree can have is the natural networking group it allows the holder to enter. In your case, having been a naval officer and a Johnny puts you into a very exclusive group. You may be surprised what doors it might open for you.

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