I attended Shimer College in the mid 1990’s. Back then, Shimer was located in Waukegan, IL. Since then, it’s moved a little ways south and is now located in Chicago, IL.
Whatever its address, Shimer College is pure, 100% awesomeness.
Who Should Go to Shimer College
Anyone who wants a great education should go to Shimer College. Although small, Shimer has a diverse study body and anyone and everyone fits in. You can be normal, or you can be really not normal— if you like dialogue, have a spark of intelligence, a dash of curiosity, and can work hard, you’ll love it.
If you’re interested or know someone who might be, contact the Shimer office of Admissions. Set up a visit, sit in on a class, and see how you feel.
In addition to its traditional undergraduate program, Shimer also has an every-third-weekend program for working adults.
What Shimer is All About
A Shimer education is about dialogue. At Shimer you read original texts from the early Greeks to modern times and go to class and talk about it with 5-12 other people. One of those people is the class facilitator, who is someone who’s read a lot and loves to discuss great works. You’d call them a “professor” at another school or “Doctor so-and-so” (they pretty much all have PhD’s and are brilliant in one way or another), but at Shimer you call them by their first name. The facilitator’s job isn’t to tell the class what to think, but to help the class figure it out for themselves. Class discussions are about what the text means in the context of its time, what it means in the context of other texts, and also what it means to that particular group of people.
Dialogue at Shimer is the practice of exchanging and developing ideas in a shared conversation that isn’t owned or dictated by any single person. It’s a magical, challenging education, and I’m so thankful that I was immersed in it.
A Shimer education is also about learning to write. And write, and write, and write. And it’s about learning to be part of a self-governing community, through good times and bad.
Why I Went to Shimer
I got great grades in high school and did very well on standardized tests, so I had choices about where to go to college. My high school was large and I was bored. Really bored. Many of the courses were intellectually challenging, but I didn’t feel a deep interest. I loved art class but knew I wasn’t a genius. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was tired of doing well just for the sake of achievement, and didn’t want to go to a college and work at something just to “get ahead.” I had fairly typical suburban teenage angst, I suppose. I was looking for meaning in life.
I visited Shimer for a couple of days in my junior year of high school. I stayed in the dorm, did the assigned reading, sat in on a few classes, and fell in love with the discussions. I knew it was where I belonged and I cried when I went home.
So I found Shimer because I was a little lost, but I loved it and chose it because the class discussions are very powerful, interesting, and challenging.
At the time, Shimer was fully accredited but quite a bit more DIY than it is now. Housing was in an old apartment building, there were no meal plans, and Waukegan was… well. Let me just say that I love my parents for supporting me and not freaking out when they left me in Waukegan. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
These days, Shimer still has its edgy coolness, but without all the fire hazards. (We never did burn anything down, although this does bring to mind the story of the kid known as OvenHead.) The Chicago campus looks pretty great.
How I’ve Used My Education
I didn’t learn a single practical thing about database administration at Shimer College, and that’s just fine. I went to Shimer in the late 90’s. We had a basic computer lab, but it’s not like what Shimer has today. For today’s students, Shimer has a relationship with the Illinois Institute of Technology, so students can take Computer Science classes if they want. Which is cool, but even though I love technology, I wouldn’t change a thing about my education.
In the bigger picture, my Shimer education gave me a framework to think about the world. It gave me a place in a dialogue. I learned to listen to people. Although I’m still far from perfect in that department, trust me, Shimer brought me a long long way.
Professionally speaking, Shimer gave me constant practice at thinking critically through a problem and developing mental relationships between pieces of information. I’m great at being a DBA because I love to learn about how relational database systems work in general as well as how specific database engines process information, and to integrate that information into a larger scope of knowledge. When something doesn’t make sense, I’m trained to write it down, find sources to read, and talk it out until I’ve worked out the differences.
In some ways this sounds just like learning to think critically, but it’s more than that. It’s learning to think critically with other people, all the time, for the sake of exploring knowledge. It’s also learning how to admit when you’re wrong, change the way you think about the world, and move forward.
I also lost a lot of my fear of authority at Shimer. I learned that people in leadership positions are just people, and you can talk to them. And if they are any good at their jobs, they’ll know how to listen.
I earned a Masters degree in Philosophy. I had a really sweet deal in a doctoral program, but I found I enjoyed working with data– lots and lots of delicious data– more than I enjoyed graduate school. So I finished the MA and got a full time job herding 1’s and 0’s. Visit my About Kendra page for info on what I’m up to lately.
Check out these Shimer sites: