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The New Schoolís Place in the Free School Tradition

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St. John's College, McDowell HallSt. John's College and The New Program

In a way, St. Johnís College is a free school of a different ilk than either Summerhill or Sudbury Valley. St. Johnís enrolls students who have for the most part completed their childhoods. It is a liberal arts college and offers an undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree. Its daily structure and the contents of its program are strictly prescribed and are not optional for or subject to change by the student. On the surface, therefore, St. Johnís College is not a free school as we initially described them.

However, this distinction might be less persuasive than it first appears. After all, the lessons of freedom which are offered at St. Johnís are not those of controlling oneís daily schedule or balancing oneís emotional life with other interests. Those lessons are properly learned in childhood and early adolescence, before enrollment at St. Johnís. The focus of St. Johnís program is almost exclusively intellectual. In the realm of intellect, the New Program of St. Johnís College might be the most intense experience in actual freedom of any institution now in operation.

A review of the history of St. John's College explains its unique place in the tradition of liberal education and in the founding of The New School.  St. John's is key, because of its New Program, adopted in 1937.  

The New Program of St. Johnís College consists of two elements: the contents of the books which form the focus and catalysts of discussion, and the spirit of rigorous, rational, shared inquiry through conversation and engagement of ideas. It is this second element, the spirit and style of intellectual engagement which The New School has gained from its roots in the New Program.

The presence in The New School of adults experienced in and adept at the skills of reason as exercised in the New Program has provided a preference for articulate, shared exploration, in addition to the other forms of growth and learning which the free school traditions of Summerhill and Sudbury Valley afford. The forms and practices of The New School are wholly compatible with the insights of Summerhill and the inner freedom which its program offers. The New School is wholly compatible with the insights and innovations of Sudbury Valley School and the political freedom and social competence which its program affords. However, in addition to these benefits, The New School brings the intellectual tradition and practices of the New Program of St. Johnís College. Through rigorous and articulate discussion and the application of the skills of reason to the emotional and practical experiences of the students, The New School gives full and meaningful weight to the value of intellectual engagement of life and the world.

 

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