A Report to Supporters of RIFI on The Great Connections Seminar,
Our "Preview" of the College of the United States Program
The Great Connections Seminar week was an exhilarating eight days of
learning and camaraderie, and personal transformation, as you will see from student comments below in
- "It has exceeded my expectations! I thought it was going to
be large and with students around my age and was kind of skeptical at first...the
quality of discussion and how much I feel I have grown is unprecedented. Not
only do I feel morally and intellectually empowered, but I have more confidence
with my social competence and ability."
- "This has been one of the best and most exciting weeks of my
life." "My fingers are crossed for the College!"
Please read on for my full report.
Let the students summarize for you...
We had an extraordinarily bright group of ten students,
ranging in age from 16 to 24. Here's what a few of them said about their
- "I felt challenged on an unprecedented level," writes one of
the most brilliant students
from the seminar (by the judgment of the other
- "I gained the most knowledge from learning how to approach a
text, obstacle, or any
event with principles and convictions I can uphold
higher than my person." "Without the
Socratic seminars and texts it wouldn't be
such a growing experience."
- "The experience was intense, frustrating, and one of the
best and most helpful of my life.
I thought that I knew how to think very well
before the seminar, but constant questioning,
discussing, and following reason,
I have found that there are many things I still need to do
in order to think
- "I feel like this week was a tornado of ideas and
experiences, and after being sucked up
an spit out of its vortex, I have now
landed on the ground and am beginning to brush
myself off, taking with me an
experience of a lifetime."
These students enjoyed a remarkable kinship with each other.
observed it in the careful way they listened to each other's
the caring way they made sure all were included
and accounted for in our
Meeting each other was singularly important to them and they
engaged in an enthusiastic, intense, and authentic manner
throughout the week.
The benefits they enjoyed...
Here's a sample of responses to the question "What benefits
have you realized as a participant?":
- "What the true definition of a "second hander" is. How
important it is for my life's development to be able to read, understand, and
reason the classic texts from their own words-not from a lecturer's
understanding of them."
- "I learned mostly that people think very differently, and at
times, think together in such an amazing way....the most valuable aspect of the
seminar was the intensely different educational environment."
The students' intellectual and emotional growth was
phenomenal to observe.
In eight days, they traveled from surprise that they
were not going to get pre-digested summaries of our texts, to frustration at
wrestling with extremely difficult-to-understand pieces, to remarkable power
and clarity in their ability to understand the texts for themselves and to
learn from each other in discussing them.
Such is the power of the methods we're using in the College
of the United States program.
What they thought of our activities...
We integrated our classic texts with real-life experience by
tapping into the cultural and financial resources of Chicago-and here's how
- "I will be talking with my friends about social healthcare.
I will use the information I received from the doctor and from the other free
- Upon going to the Art Institute, "I really enjoyed Marsha's
commentary, made me think of reasons why different culture's art is so different
and what conclusions we can draw from those differences."
- "By the way: experiencing the city life of Chicago, eating
at Charlie Trotters, living in such a cool place, all that really completed the
experience for me, I didn't expect nearly as much." "I also love how the city of
Chicago was made a part of our learning experience as opposed to simply a place
where we happened to be."
- "I think it is awesome that we spent an entire session
talking about the beauty of the pragmatic implications of the efficiency of the market in
the midst of skyscrapers."
| Their overall evaluation of the seminar...
In response to the question "Can you think of a specific
you will be using what you learned?" a student said:
- "I won't give up in my attempts to learn and
something. Things that seem too difficult or
incomprehensible pose no serious
threat, but require
effort....I won't take criticism of my arguments too
personally but will understand that ad
weaknesses in reason and that reason should never be
abandoned. I will have courage to speak, patience to listen
and understand, and
will avoid exasperation because I
there is always a means to understanding."
- To the question "Has it fulfilled your expectations?" a
student responded: "More than I can say, I've learned an immense amount of
information and experienced the crucial importance of friendship, reason,
intelligence, art, and organization." "I can imagine how great this college
would be. It's such a great idea, and I hope it'll go far. Thank you so much!"
What we've learned...
Although the week was packed tight, we managed to execute almost everything on the schedule. In
the future, we would give more time to each text, cutting down on the number
per week (of course, in the College, we'll have more time to examine each
reading). We'd also increase the number
of specifically instructional seminars.
The balance of readings and seminars to activities was good
but we'd rearrange the schedule and give the students more free time in the
Almost unanimously, students appreciated one-on-one time
with instructors to discuss their professional goals. We'll give them more
one-on-one time and more instruction and time to research professional goals.
We need an assistant to help with the detailed execution of
the program. We'll advertise farther in advance! (We'll be able to do that, as
the program is already devised.)
Thank you to everyone who contributed towards the seminar
and who helped in any (many) ways. You made this unprecedented event possible.
There are many specific improvements we'd make in the
seminars and the materials. However, the overall program and experience worked
beautifully. The integration of intellectual challenges with city life and work
place encounters produced a uniquely powerful learning experience for the
Furthermore, the students, to a one, thrived on meeting and
engaging with each other -
their ideas, thoughts, values, passion for fun, and
authentic valuing of each other. They were inspired to know each other, to know
that there were other people in this
world as passionate about ideas and truth as themselves.
This is what an in-person experience with the right
educational environment creates for young people. This is why we need the College of the United States.
Where do we go from here...
The students' unusually rapid and extensive learning shows
the power of our program. This kind of transformative experience will be even
more powerful and effective as a full-fledged college program. It will enable
bright, capable young people develop the skills they need to flourish and
defend reason, individualism, and freedom. Starting small, we're aiming to
contribute to a cultural renaissance.
We're making a video of the seminar - we'll send you news about it soon.