Ms. van Boxel has been a tutor at St. John’s for almost twenty years and has led classes in the Graduate Institute for many of them. I recently caught up with her in order to take a quick snapshot of her experience as a Johnnie. Here’s what she had to say on:
The students are fantastic. It’s very uplifting to be with people on a day-to-day basis who are so earnest and interested in learning. Here, I see people when they’re acting at the peak of what it is to be human. The conversational mode [of class] means they’re not only operating at the peak of their intellect, they’re also trying hard to be at a character peak, which goes a long way to facilitate human interactions. That’s my day-to-day, and that’s very good. Going to class and being involved in these kinds of interactions is uplifting.
Genuine conversations, in which you are trying to work productively with someone else in order to develop what both of you want to say, requires that you risk yourself. You have to offer your opinions to others so that they can be examined, which means someone might argue against your opinions. To offer your ideas and accept challenges that are made to them requires you to be more interested in learning than in protecting your opinions. You have to realize that you are not your opinions. You are the person who wants to learn; you want to replace mere opinion with knowledge. This commitment to learning requires a sort of high-mindedness; that is, you have to be passionately attached to your higher self, something better than you are now. Rising to your higher self requires a willingness to leave your comfort zone. It involves a kind of overflowing of the soul.
The Texts Themselves
I still find it fascinating to go back to Homer. In his works, you encounter this mind that lives in a very moral paradigm than the one in which we live today. Can you see Homer for what he is, as opposed to seeing him through your familiar paradigm? Do you allow yourself to see fully how strange, how foreign some of his views, the people, and the world might be? Often, we want to make things familiar too hastily. Don’t make it familiar. See it for what it is! Allow yourself to be amazed. For me, the opportunity to see something that is strange, at least initially, is thrilling.
Lisa van Boxel received her BA (Honors) in Political Science at Trinity College, University of Toronto. She went on to receive an MA (High Distinction) in Political Philosophy at Boston College and returned to the University of Toronto to obtain her PhD in Political Philosophy. She began as a tutor at St. John’s College on the Santa Fe campus in 2001, and has since taught at both campuses.