Seminar at Trotters
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 quotes.
      - "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.

                                                          Stephen Hicks
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 experience:

      - "I felt challenged on an unprecedented level," writes one of the most brilliant students
         from the seminar (by the judgment of the other participants).

      -  "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 better."

       - "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."

Stephen Hicks   These students enjoyed a remarkable kinship with each other. I
   observed it in the careful way they listened to each other's
   statements, and the caring way they made sure all were included
   and accounted for in our activities.
   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...TGC Division of Labor

We integrated our classic texts with real-life experience by tapping into the cultural and financial resources of Chicago-and here's how students responded:
      - "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 market people."
      -  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...

Seminar Brendan Nick  In response to the question "Can you think of a specific
  way you will be using what you learned?" a student said:
      - "I won't give up in my attempts to learn and
  understand something. Things that seem too difficult or
  incomprehensible pose no serious threat, but require
  effort....I won't take criticism of my arg
uments too
  personally but will understand that ad hominem attacks
  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
  know 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!"
Seminar Eric Jake Beach 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 evening.
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 students.
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.
Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute