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Shimer Great Books School: A homeschool friendly college

Apr 05, 2018

Preparation is underway for our first two-week summer camp: the Shimer Great Books School “Big Ideas” camp. The first big idea will focus on nature, June 18 – 22, and our second idea is technology, June 25 – 29.

I'm working right now on how we’ll structure each weeks program, and my guide has been my own all-too-short experience as a homeschooled kid. When I was 13, my family returned to the United States from France, where we lived for a little over a year in Clermont-Ferrand—the industrial heart of the country. I was old enough for that year to make a big impression, yet young enough for it to be an adventure. I was sad to return home, but my mother had the idea that, once back in the U.S., we would not return immediately to public schools. Instead, my mom, sister and I spent a very happy six months reading, writing, making art and taking field trips to New York City and around Long Island. We needed our adventure to last, to extend our voyage of discovery to the Old World—a big, new world for all of us.


The plan for our Shimer School summer camp comes in part from my homeschool experience. My mother suggested that we focus our studies on a big idea or two, one of which was nature. So, we read Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my parents’ favorites, and a household name for us. We went out to the end of the island and read about the island’s ecology and geology. My mother’s father was a botanist at the Smithsonian Institute, one of the world’s leading experts on diatoms, a man of science through and through. Our trips on the island and around our home were inspired directly by my grandfather’s love for Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, a classic in the literature of ecology and sustainability.

I regret not having the freedom to continue homeschooling, and I am dismayed at the state of public high school. This all makes me feel fortunate to teach here at the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College, which reflects the same enthusiasm for learning and encouragement of exploration as I experienced in my days as a homeschool student.

In their search for colleges that accept homeschoolers, many students are delighted to find that Shimer is not only a place where homeschooled students are welcome, but it is a place where they will thrive. We regularly have homeschooled students come to college here, and they typically take to the self-starting, self-guided, big picture pedagogy here readily, whereas those who are still sloughing off the habits of mind taught at many public high schools struggle at first. I envy our homeschooled kids a bit and admire their parents, if only because they recall to me the tempting taste my younger self had of my home as my school.

 I’m not sure who is speaking here. Can we have a quick introduction? For example, if this is Stuart perhaps this line can start out with, “As the chair of The Shimer Great Books School, I’m working right now on…”

We may want to soften the language here as we wouldnt want to turn off students who are coming from a traditional public high school experience not just for Shimer but also for other North Central College programs.

Authored by Stuart Patterson Chair, Shimer Great Books School at North Central College.

stuart patterson