In Raphael’s The School of Athens, an assembly of ancient sages and philosophers is depicted engaged in the animate pursuit of truth. This famous painting aptly expresses the scope and purpose of an education in the liberal arts: a true feast of wisdom, made available through the laborious joy of study. This joy is at the heart of Thomas More College’s curriculum.
As part of the curriculum, current juniors are invited to reflect with greater seriousness on their last two years of intellectual formation, moving from the position of an observer to an actor. The first field for testing their early mastery of the curriculum is found in the Junior Project, a semester-long period of careful, extensive reading in a subject of the student’s particular interest. After selecting a topic, the student then prepares for a formal oral examination under the guidance of an appointed faculty member.
“I choose St. Augustine’s City of God as my topic,” says junior Lux Kamprath, “partly because I had read the work before in high school, but especially because I was inspired by what I saw while studying abroad during the Rome semester.”
At the end of each semester, the juniors are called upon to present their findings before a faculty panel. In the course of the examination, the student must not only demonstrate depth of insight into the particular readings completed, but breadth and eloquence as well. The aim of the examination is not only to show attentiveness to the texts considered, but also to integrate the knowledge gained from the various courses of previous years.
The student preparing for his Junior Project has a considerable amount of freedom in choosing a topic of inquiry. In past years, juniors have explored subjects as diverse as Bernini, Plato’s Symposium, Poetic Inspiration, G.K. Chesterton, and the Common Good. Typically, the focus is placed on a a major writer, idea, or body of literature. A particular author’s poems, a philosophical idea, a selection of political works, or the writings of a saint: the options available for consideration are wide-ranging and extensive.
“There were a lot of ways in which previous classes gave me the foundation for studying Boethius’s theory of proportion,” says junior Liam Mitchell. “I found that there was a lot of continuity between what we studied before and the works I read while preparing for my presentation, such as The Republic and Euclid’s Elements.”
Because the Junior Project is primarily directed at fostering the student’s ability to enter into a period of independent study, there is no grade offered, despite its being required for graduation. Instead, students receive the mark of Fail, Pass, or Pass with Honors. The final aim of such an exercise is to bring to a level of maturity and polish those skills of thinking, writing, and speaking that form the backbone of any liberal arts education.
Like the youthful scholars depicted in The School of Athens, the Junior Project gives students of Thomas More College the chance to engage more fully in the pursuit of truth: not only as observers, but as active participants. As the efforts of past Junior Projects testify, the labor of a semester-long period of reading and reflection leads, ultimately, to the joy that accompanies the acquisition of wisdom.
The Class of 2014 Junior Projects:
St. Augustine’s The City of God
On Fairy Stories
The Poem of the Cid
Aristotle: On Perception
Sigrid Undset’s Kristen Lavransdatter
The Poetry of Robert Frost
The Gospel Parables
The Poetry of Richard Crashaw
Boethius: On the Quadrivium
Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited
St. Francis of Assisi
The Poetry of John Keats