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TranscriptSCREEN TEXT: Shimer: The Great Books College of Chicago
Michael Doherty reading PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED
Dorian Electra reading THE PRESOCRATICS
Erik Boneff reading BEING AND TIME
Jill Leslie reading FEAR AND TREMBLING
Allison Savage reading ESSAYS ON EXISTENTIALISM
Mohini Lal reading LETTERS ON CEZANNE
Dinah Gumns reading THE LEVIATHAN
MICHAEL: A Great Books school is a college where people read only source documents, instead of textbooks, and they have generally very small sized class discussions of usually no more than twelve students, having discussions concerning these texts.
HAROLD STONE (professor of humanities): The reason that they're chosen is that they make possible a kind of conversation about fundamental issues.
ERIK: 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 it's a pretty important one.
DINAH: The student to teacher ratio is pretty small, I mean, in every classroom it's a maximum of twelve people to one teacher.
HAROLD: So much active learning goes on in the interchange between students in the classroom, and between students and instructor, but I'd say mostly the students interacting.
ALLISON: At Shimer we don't call our professors "professors," we call them facilitators, because it based on the idea that 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.
JIM DONOVAN (professor of natural sciences): When I'm sitting there with ten students around the table and a copy of Newton's Principia in front of us, then 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.
BARBARA STONE (Dean of Academics): I consider that, in fact, probably my major job in the classrom is to work with the dynamics, but make sure that the class is really focusing on central issues to the text and making connections with other texts.
DORIAN: You know, sometimes in class people might get kind of emotionally charged about particular issues, but I think what I love about seeing that is that this is a place where a lot of people really care about what we're reading and the ideas that we're talking about.
ALLISON: One of the most unique things about Shimer is kind of the classroom setting -- is that, there isn't really teachers and students, it's kind of just a gathering of people sitting around this big octagonal table, and there is no sense of hierarchy.
BARBARA: There's a mutual respect, and I never feel as if, you know, "oh, I'm the expert."
ELI NELSON: We're kind of encouraged to put ourselves out there and to argue for a viewpoint that might not be something we would traditionally accept, or might be completely in opposition to whatever either the text is proposing or even the facilitator is.
DORIAN: 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.
MICHAEL: The fact that you are in Chicago...
JIM: ... Really a world class city if you really get out there, a phenomenal -- a phenomenal resource.
MICHAEL: Access to all of the cultural amenities and benefits that Chicago provides, both on a university level and also just on a public level, with things like the Art Institute, and there's something else I was trying to think of, but things like that...
JESUS: There's a great metal scene, I'm into metal, I play metal.
ALLISON: I also love the cinema in Chicago, there's a lot of really cool small art theaters.
DORIAN: It's cool being in a big city, when it's a the whole city is your campus kind of thing.
JIM: We share this space with an internationally known and respected technical college, Illinois Institute of Technology, and also actually on the campus here, Vandercook school of music. Shimer has a cross-registration agreement with those schools.
MOHINI: 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.
JESUS: I've cross registered at Vandercook, which is a music school that's also on campus.
DORIAN: I do want to take an architecture class at IIT.
MOHINI: I've also done courses at Harold Washington in statistics and art.
MICHAEL: I cross-registered for a class in abnormal psychology my second semester here.
MOHINI: 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.
MICHAEL: Like any other kind of slightly arrogant high schooler, of course, you would want to be able to go to Oxford without having to actually get in.
ALLISON: If you have a really obscure desire to learn something very obscure, it's much more possible to do that in Oxford.
HAROLD: For the students that were there, it was a transformative experience.
ALLISON: Shimer students and staff and faculty and Board of Trustees get a share in how the college is governed, it's not one body kind of laying down the law, but it's everyone involved having a say and kind of pitching in together to create what they want this place to be.
DINAH: You get to hear everything that's being voted through, everything that's being proposed, and your voice is completely heard.
ERIK: Shimer just sort of represented a way for me to take control of my education in a way that I didn't really have the ability to do either at my high school or at most colleges that I looked at.
DORIAN: I visited my junior year and I absolutely fell in love with it, and I was obsessed with it, and I kept talking about it.
JILL LESLIE: 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 knew I wanted to go to Shimer. So she completely supports me and she loves the fact that I'm here.
DON MOON (former president and professor of natural sciences): At Shimer, your son, your daughter will learn to find her or his own voice, will gain a kind of courage.
DORIAN: I've had people tell me, "liberal arts degree, what are you going to do with that?"
MICHAEL BERRY (alumnus and former president of Barnes & Noble): It wasn't strictly knowledge that they gave me, but a methodology of how to approach complex problems with critical reasoning, with critical thought.
DINAH: Because at Shimer you're taught to think critically at every point; so you're not just listening, you're listening and really deconstructing what students say.
DON: 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.
DORIAN: It just changes the way that I looked at the world, myself and other people, and I feel that is to me the most practical thing of all.
JESUS: 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 and saying like, welcome to the club, you know?
DORIAN: This is where I was to begin with [makes narrow "V" with hands joined at wrist], and when I came to Shimer, it's like ... [opens "V" shape until hands are spread out wide]
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