Keeping it in the Family

Each summer in Santa Fe, St. John’s College hosts three weeks of Summer Classics. Each Summer Classics session is a weeklong seminar that brings folks together from across the country to read one or a few great works, meeting for one or more seminar each day. Participants come from all walks of life and corners of the country, from locals to folks traveling long distances, from lawyers to teachers, businesspeople to retirees. Most attendees meet for the first time upon arriving on campus, or in their Monday morning seminar, but that wasn’t true for everyone! Each year, we have a few folks make their time at St. John’s a family affair.

Ken Resnick first attended summer classics in 2017. He enjoyed the sessions so much that he became a student at the Graduate Institute, and he plans to continue return long after graduation: “I am set for life! No more worries about what I will do in retirement!” This summer, he didn’t come alone, bringing his daughter Stephanie with him for the St. John’s experience: “My dad took classes last year and raved about it. I was pretty jealous that he was having so much fun without me!”

They participated in two seminars together, first reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace and then a session on ants and society that involved some field research. Speaking about the Tolstoy seminar, Stephanie noted, “I have never had to discuss a book in the format that we did. Even thought it was very free form, there were rules. I really enjoyed that – those simple guidelines on how to achieve better discussion can be applied in so many contexts…I learned so much about the book that I never would have fully grasped reading it alone.”

Ken seconds the value of discussion, saying that his favorite part of Summer Classics is “The opportunity to sit down with a group of mostly strangers (now friends) from around the country and discuss civilly, seriously and without distraction, issues of paramount importance to humanity.” They also enjoyed the science aspect of the second session, agreeing that “the field research on the ants made the books we read come to life.”

Doing Summer Classics together brought an extra dimension to the experience. “We both love to share great books,” Stephanie says, “and this was another way to do that.” Ken agrees, noting that “There are many activities and forms of entertainment you can do together with your children, but in my view, there isn’t anything more valuable and meaningful than reading great works of literature and having the right dialogue about them, [although] trout fishing together comes in a close second!”

“If I could institute this form of discussion at home with my family every day, I would do so,” he adds, “ However, life intervenes, stuff happens, we all get busy, and it is difficult to convene the family with daughters residing on both the east and west coast.  So, we come to St. Johns.   Why?   My daughter and I will be able to continue our War & Peace discussions for the rest of our lives.  You can’t beat that.”


Another pair keeping St. John’s in the family is Amy and Sean Bittner. Amy attended Summer Classics while Sean, who is in high school, attended Summer Academy. “I graduated from the [MA in Liberal Arts program in Annapolis] in 2017, so the format was very familiar, but it was fun to experience the seminar table in a somewhat more casual setting,” says Amy. Other than seeing his mom attend the Graduate Institute, this was Sean’s first experience with St. John’s, but he has long been interested in the college: “Sean and I come from a classical Christian homeschool tutorial in Maryland where I have tutored and Sean and his sister have been students. Sean loves Great Books and is intrigued by the St. John’s program—he was always interested in what I was doing when I was in the Graduate Institute!” Sean was particularly excited by the topic of his Summer Academy session on “The Blues:” “I recently started playing the blues on the guitar and figured studying the blues with a “St. John’s” approach would aid in my musical journey.”

Amy, meanwhile, was excited to apply that “St. John’s approach” to the study of quantum mechanics. “I love the St. John’s approach to science and have a fascination with the mysteriousness of Quantum Theory, and if I made the trip to Santa Fe it was going to be for a unique offering that really captured my imagination. It just so happened that the sessions which aligned to our interests were scheduled at the same time.”

Both Amy and Sean got a lot from the discussions. “Conversing about the books and their ideas brings forth so much more substance than a simple reading would otherwise,” notes Sean, while Amy adds that “the people who choose to come to St. John’s Santa Fe are a special breed. I enjoyed the camaraderie with others who want to learn for learning’s sake and for enlightenment and understanding.”

Much like for Ken and Stephanie, traveling to St. John’s together made the experience particularly special. “It was exciting to travel together, anticipate together, plan together,” says Amy. “Had one of us gone to Santa Fe alone, we could have told the other what it was like, but this way we could understand what the other one was doing, and where; the setting had such a significant impact on our time and activities. We could share our thoughts in a more meaningful way. The memory is a bond that we will always have to share.” Sean adds that “sharing [this experience] with my mom made it that much more special. We were able to share our insights into things like our classroom dynamics, curricula, and the beauty of the campus routinely. These little conversations really tied the rest of the week’s experiences together.”

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