On Saturday, December 6, the Guardian published a piece by Jon Ronson that focused on a Chicago treasure, Shimer College. Located at 35th and State, Shimer is a liberal arts college that is tiny, filled with wonder, and has the tag line “Dangerously Optimistic Since 1853.” And yes, I am Shimerprez, the president of what we sometimes call a micro-college.
Initially located in Mount Carroll, Illinois and then in Waukegan, Shimer moved to the city in 2006. In fact, it moved to the south side, to historic Bronzeville, to IIT, where Shimer has continued our tradition of a core curriculum focused on humanities, social sciences and sciences. We offer, I have come to say, a version of what Thorstein Veblen called “the privilege of historical backwardness.” Put another way, today, Shimer is the bleeding edge of higher education.
How does reading texts from the pre-socratics til today make us bleeding edge?
Are you concerned about democracy? About the ways we live together? About the presence (or absence) of critical thinking? About today’s youth? About violence? About the ways we express ourselves through writing (or coding)? Do you think being ahistorical is a problem for us all? Or are you asking whether honor matters? Are you concerned about gender equity? Or the impact of Ferguson? Do you think science matters? Do you occasionally wake up at night and wonder where the meaning is? Do you love your job? Do you yearn for a bipartisan possibility in which those who strongly agree can speak in humane ways with those with whom they strongly disagree?
We know that question marks matter (including in the title of the Guardian piece) because questions matter.
Our pedagogy brings together a range of human beings, with a professor that brings experience and expertise to the table, to learn through discussion. Our classes are intentionally small. We ask questions. We agree and disagree. And, our examination structure, our senior thesis, and our close work together ensure that those who graduate leaven the worlds in which they live whether they teach at Princeton, design airport terminals, produce on broadway, work at the Adler Planetarium, write poetry and teach at Tulane, invest in communities, attend graduate school, serve coffee, teach English in Spain or dance in the streets.
Of course, our students take electives — including courses at IIT from robotics to . . . well, you get the drift. They also live and work in Chicago, undertake internships and play chess. On occasion, they engage in rock climbing, in singing, in painting, in sports, and in community gardening. They act in plays (including in this past season’s Chicago Fringe Festival) and create graphic novels. (See here for several commencement addresses, including one involving rock climbing.) Our faculty write about awkwardness and Augustine, feminism and Darwin, ice skates and American labor history.
I could list a range of other important questions or key features of the Shimer experience — the center of Shimerian education — but perhaps a more important thing to do is simply to say that the students of Shimer give me hope. So too do the alumni who populate the worlds of business, the arts, education (both higher education and elementary schools), and make their lives both fruitful and meaningful. I love our occasional refrain “Shimer College — somewhere between reality and utopia.” Or, somewhere in Chicago — in Bronzeville — at 35th and State, on line at www.shimer.edu.
So check out the Guardian piece, where the comments tell us something very real and very important about today’s debate about the nature of higher education in the US and on the globe. I hope you will join what Robert Maynard Hutchins once called “the great conversation.”
Filed under: Around the Web