Shimer College in Chicago has been voted the worst college in America.

What makes it the worst college in America?

Violence, racism, sexism, poor educational standards?

Nope, none of those.

It’s been voted worst college because it doesn’t fit into any of the conventional criteria for choosing a college or university.

It’s niche, very niche.

It doesn’t have a football team or a basketball team.

It doesn’t have fraternities or sororities or cheerleaders.

It doesn’t have a football stadium or a swimming pool or a concert arena.

Their student graduations don’t feature laser-shows and fireworks and speeches from celebrities given honorary degrees.

And worst of all, the courses aren’t easy.

Because there are no textbooks.

Textbooks are where the accepted opinions of other people are written down for you to memorise, to pass exams.

This college doesn’t have any of that.

Students are expected to read, discuss, and learn from, the great writing of the past.

Writing like: Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Descartes, Kant, Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Kafka, Derrida, Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Shakespeare.

But they must read the actual books.

Not textbooks about the books.

All opinions must come from the students themselves.

And they learn to debate this via Socratic dialogue.

In the college’s words “You learn to rigorously prepare for any debate or discussion, ready to define your terms and cite your sources. To learn to formulate and argue your opinions, listen to the opinions of others, adapt your perspectives, and evolve.” 

So the object actually is learning.

Not just cramming a subject to pass an exam.

Which perhaps goes some way to describing why it was voted the worst college in America.

It’s about learning, and nothing else.

Learning to read, and think, and debate.

Which is, quite frankly, not what most teenagers want from college.

They’re interested in a different sort of experience.

That’s why the University of Pennsylvania was voted the ‘Number One Party College’ in Playboy magazine.

And there are college rankings for the ‘Best Looking Girls’, the ‘Richest College”, the “Best Fraternities”, the “Best Sports College”, the “Best Leisure Facilities”.

The competition between colleges is about attracting more applicants than anyone else.

That way they can charge more money.

So the college rankings become all-important.

Which is a very different criteria from delivering the best education.

(Just the way advertising awards are a different criteria from what motivates the public.)

Personally I wouldn’t want to go to a college like Shimer.

I’m not that sort of person.

But I love the fact that it exists for those that are.

I don’t want everyone to be like me.

Education shouldn’t just be about turning out thousands of identical graduates on production lines.


That’s why I love Shimer’s motto “Learn how to think, not what to think”.