In my experience as a Teaching Assistant for the Summer Scholars Program, I have found it beautiful to see the ways that high school students often find freedom in the academic ethos offered at Templeton. For some students, the classical dialogical model of learning that they experience as Summer Scholars is unlike anything they have done before. Other students already love this model and want more of it. It has been especially wonderful to see students engage in this unique mode of education for the first time—they often find it both challenging and enthralling. Many times, their responses have reminded me of my own process of acclimation to the academic atmosphere of the Honors College.
Until I came to Templeton, much of my education shaped me towards unquestioning cooperation, docility, and often passivity. Success meant doing what I was told, learning what I was supposed to learn, and giving the answers the teacher wanted me to give. So much of the daily work of school—solving math problems, completing worksheets, taking tests, memorizing vocabulary words—reinforced the underlying principle that success meant meeting the standards that other people set for me, no matter how arbitrary they seemed. One can only operate in this mode for so many years before it becomes difficult to ask good questions, to challenge ideas, and to honestly attempt to make sense of the world. My teachers cared very genuinely about my academic progress, and yet by the time I reached high school, doing group work or being asked to respond to an open-ended question felt like an irritating chore. It was much easier to settle into my plastic desk chair and listen to the teacher talk, doodling on the side of the page until the bell rang.
When I came to Templeton, I discovered an entirely different paradigm of learning. In my first semester of classes with Drs. Yonan, Cary, and Putnam, I was asked to engage in conversation in a way I never had before. It started with the physical setup of the classroom: we never sat in rows, but always in a circle, which made it clear from the beginning that we were there to talk to one another, not just to absorb information from a lecture. The kinds of conversations that these professors led and the manner in which they led them invited and encouraged my active participation; I could no longer remain passive. I was given a voice in a conversation that truly mattered to me because it sought to explore the most important things—what a good life is; what virtue is; how we are to engage with Scripture and the Christian tradition; how great thinkers understood the reality of human life.
At first, this was terrifying. It felt like a great deal of pressure, but with time I realized that it was okay to make mistakes, to say one thing and change my mind, or to say something and then decide it may have been foolish. Having a voice in this conversation slowly changed from something that scared me to something that deeply excited me. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult—in fact, having good conversation continues to be one of the most challenging things I do. But it was enthralling to feel for the first time that I had been made the master of my own education and had been given the freedom to seek answers to the questions that mattered to me. Perhaps even more wonderful was the guidance I received from my professors as I tried to determine what questions I needed to be asking, and how in the world I ought to go about trying to answer them. It’s incredibly humbling to have distinguished professional scholars wanting to hear what you have to say, talk to you, and support your intellectual and spiritual growth—and this is the gift I received, and Summer Scholars continue to receive. My professors not only invited me into conversation, but also modeled good conversational habits, helping all of the students to develop charity, honesty, and patience in talking to one another.