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Too many college courses today consist of in-class lectures based on reading assignments from expensive and quickly outdated textbooks. Often the information in the textbook is simply regurgitated in the lecture, thus making the course content frustratingly redundant. The textbooks themselves summarize information that was first articulated in more nuanced and difficult primary sources. At the end of the course, the students take a test on the material covered in the lecture and the textbook, and their ability to recall information on the test determines their grade in the class. This results in students whose main skill is short-term memorization of second-hand information.
The College at Saint Constantine approaches class differently. All of the class time in our core Great Texts Tutorials is dedicated to in-depth Socratic discussion of key primary sources from world history. The readings proceed chronologically from the classics of the Ancient Middle East, Greece, and Rome through Late Antiquity and the Medieval World to the Modern Era. Students grapple first hand with the great ideas and stories that have shaped the contemporary world. In discussion they are challenged by their peers and professors to articulate what they think about these texts and why. Over time, they build a community of reading, discussion, and scholarship that encourages rigorous preparation for class discussions and learning to speak the truth in love concerning the most important questions that humanity has ever faced: questions of ethics, politics, religion, and human relationships. We do not have time to waste on second-hand ideas watered down and soon forgotten. The great thinkers, teachers, and justice-seekers of the ages await our engagement, and at the College at Saint Constantine, we rise to meet them.
The Bachelor of Arts
During the first two years of the College program, students complete their General Education units through our Great Texts core curriculum. Those wishing to continue their study of Great Texts at the upperclassmen level can continue on into our Bachelor of Arts program, where they study great writers—especially Plato, Dante, and Shakespeare—in tremendous depth, and are apprenticed in the research, writing, and dialectic required at the graduate level. The Bachelor of Arts culminates in a Senior Thesis, wherein the student conducts original research and produces a scholarly, article-length essay on a writer of their choice. Students who complete the Bachelor of Arts at Saint Constantine are equipped to go on to a wide range of careers and/or graduate school in education, law, the arts, the humanities, and more. Most importantly, they have dedicated their undergraduate years to the slow work of forming a humble soul, a virtuous character, and a discerning mind.
The Great Texts Curriculum
The core curriculum at Saint Constantine is the Great Texts, starting with Ancient Greece and the Near East, and continuing through the Patristic, Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern Periods up to the classics of the late 20th century. Rather than learn from textbooks, our students study Homer, Plato, St. Paul, Muhammad, Shakespeare, Austen, Dr. King, and many more. Rather than divide the curriculum artificially among disciplines, we study Great Texts chronologically and in an interdisciplinary fashion; students are encouraged to make connections between the poets, philosophers, scientists, and saints they encounter on a weekly basis.
It’s what students like John Milton, C. S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers received: one-on-one tutorials with expert faculty. Our students meet weekly with professors to share their writing and research on the Great Texts, receiving individualized feedback on their personal academic projects. This individual tutorial model worked for centuries to develop top student-leaders at ancient universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and it still works today at Saint Constantine in Houston.
Twice per semester, every student in the college comes together for all-day discussions of the most central texts in our curriculum. During these Keystone weeks, from dawn to dusk professors and students discuss The Republic, The Divine Comedy, Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, and more, expanding their dialectical endurance, and celebrating texts that form the backbone of the Great Texts canon.
Supplementing the individual tutorials are weekly Socratic group discussions, where cohorts of students rigorously discuss the Great Texts. Interdisciplinary, dialectical, and holistic, the group discussion is where the friendship and camaraderie at the heart of the college are honed and strengthened through focused, sustained conversation about the most important texts, questions, and ideas in history.
Because of the small class sizes, students are required and expected to actively participate in each class session. The curriculum is diverse and rich, offering students many opportunities to demonstrate their ability to wrestle and interact with the material.
It is assumed that each student is capable of pursuing their studies until there is clear evidence to the contrary. Progress is noted by tutors throughout the semester, and regular attendance is required. All absences and instances of being clearly unprepared for, or lack of participation in, tutorials are taken into consideration when determining academic standing.
The Don Rag
In keeping with the Oxford model, the most important form of evaluation within the College program is the don rag. Once every semester, the student will meet with the tutors for an oral examination. Students are questioned on the texts they have read, the essays they have written, and on their critical and interpretive opinions. These are not a litmus test of content memorization, but rather an encouragement to the students to comprehensively approach their learning; to be able to articulate the ideas they come across during the course of their education, and their own analysis and response to those ideas.
Rather than merely working for grades, students are encouraged to develop their powers of understanding. Therefore, within the college, grading is not of central importance. Students are told their grades only on request. The tutor’s comprehensive judgment of a student is reported each semester as a conventional letter grade, A, B, C, D or F, where C indicates that the work is at a satisfactory level. Such a grading system is necessary for students who wish to enter graduate or professional school, or to transfer to another college. If it becomes evident that a student is not progressing or that the learning process has stopped, the student is asked to leave the college.
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