My name is Noah LeBien and this fall I began classes at Shimer College. This is not my first shot at College; after graduating high school I went to the College of Wooster in Ohio, before transferring to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. When I found neither to be a good fit I took a year off, unsure of where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, wondering if it was worth it at all to take a third stab at the academic world.
Then I found Shimer. I stumbled upon an article about the Great Books programs on Wikipedia, of all places. I was intrigued by the whole history behind the program and was drawn even more into it when I read about a small Great Books College in Chicago.
I decided to give Shimer a call and set up an appointment to visit and sit in on a class. After the first visit, I remember being surprised at the size of Shimer. The intimacy and friendliness of the staff and students that I spoke with made me realize how much the community knew when to take something seriously and when to be relaxed. I left satisfied, and though I did not participate in the class discussion, it left an impression.
I remember a few days after my visit, my father, who works for the Chicago Tribune, approached me about this small school he had heard about that he thought might interest me. A Tribune article about the controversy involving Shimer’s president had just appeared. I took the coincidental timing of the article, my father's advice, and my visit as a good sign, so I started an application.
When I was invited to do an interview after submitting my application I was excited, not only because I had another chance to visit the school, but because I would get to support my application and my essays personally. This more personal touch to the school is something unique and it is strange to try and explain it to someone who hasn’t been here. Though my experience here hasn’t been that long, it seems like an environment that is small but not constricting, intimate but not overwhelming. I assume my interview went well, because within a month I was moving into an apartment in Bridgeport and participating in orientation.
A specific discussion early on in the year inspired me to write this post:
In my Natural Sciences 2 we were given parts of On the Soul by Aristotle as our first reading assignment, and someone brought up the point that we have come so far in our knowledge of the mind and soul that there isn’t much we can get out of old text anymore. The writers of the Great Books did not have our technical advantages, true, but in spite of this they managed to make things so influential with so little. Even 100 years from now many things we know and take for granted will be considered irrelevant, but these thinkers will still be relevant because of the weight their ideas have had on human history. This is what permits worthwhile study.
My first thoughts and experiences at Shimer have been centered on the question of why the Great Books have this continually potent freshness, and why it feels necessary to study them. I realized that it seems one can’t dig deep into this question anywhere else.