Made Ready by Conversation (Johnson)

What good is sitting around talking about books?

This is a rather urgent question for the faculty of the Torrey Honors Institute as we start into another academic year, because we are leading our students once again into an extended season of exactly that. At Torrey, the professors assign classic texts, reserve classrooms, and show up to ask questions. In response, our students dutifully read those classic texts (they really do! It’s like college magic!), put their chairs in circles, and attempt to answer those questions.

They converse with each other. For three, six, or nine hours per week, they are guided by the professors to talk with each other about the assigned reading. The conversation constitutes the bulk of their general education, and accounts for all their classroom time. They do attend some lectures, and there’s a lot of time spent in individual meetings during office hours, and several other contact points, formal and informal, throughout the semester. But all that activity is ancillary to the vast, ongoing conversation. Sometimes it seems like all we do is converse.

Is this a good idea? It’s not hard to think of powerful arguments against it.

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