Report on Great Connections 2016

Editor’s Note: This is the text of a report to donors on the 2016 Great Connections Seminar. 

This July, our high school and graduate school students hailed from places such as Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, Nepal and all directions of the U.S. Over half were returnees who paid their own way—one from Buenos Aires.

Six came to study how to use our unique methodology in their teaching, so they could take that skill back to their classrooms and organizations where they live.

“I learned more in one week than in ten years at school.”

— Saulo Maciel, attendee

For this purpose, I created a two-day Great Connections Training Program for Teachers and conducted it before the seminar started. I’m now being asked to conduct a class for teachers at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala.

Veteran writer joins seminar staff

Veteran writer and advertising executive Malachy Walsh with Great Connections attendee Sheidy Li Cam.

We added a new component to the instruction this year, a 5-day writing class. Malachy Walsh, former creative director for J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, was our instructor and he brought all of his knowledge and world-tested skill in excellent communication to the program.

Before he worked in advertising, Malachy studied literature and philosophy at the University of Chicago under the Aristotle scholar and member of the committee that created The Great Books, Richard McKeon. His love of these books was strengthened over the years by the advantages they gave him in advertising and marketing — his co-workers would marvel at how he solved certain problems. He knew it was from incorporating the principles of Aristotle’s Rhetoric into his thinking. “Our students are ambitious to live well and spread reason, individualism, and freedom through their projects and careers. ”

Malachy used the Rhetoric for our class this summer. He was deeply impressed with how quickly our students were able to work together to produce excellent solutions to the writing problemsposed to them. 

Daily reviews amplify results

He went out of his way to comment to me about something else that impressed him: arriving early every morning, he would listen to our daily faculty meetings. At these, my instructors and trainees would review the performance of the students from the previous day and analyze what went well, what needed improvement, and what each student needed to optimize his or her experience. Then we would figure out what changes we needed to make that day to help students have the best experience possible.

He remarked that he saw how this review and revision resulted in better classes every day. Bottom line: this careful work is part of the reason we have consistent, remarkable outcomes after one week of classes.

For example, Saulo Maciel, a junior in Journalism from Campo Grande Brasil, declared “I learned more in one week than in ten years at school.”

Transformed lives

Our students are ambitious to live well and spread reason, individualism, and freedom through their projects and careers. That includes their personal choices, the way they run the companies they plan to create, their work as journalists, musicians, computer programmers, or their academic teaching careers. We’re preparing a kind of professor different from the indoctrinating collectivists that rule most of the academy today.

You can see these ambitions in some of the comments which are below. Unlike their experience at traditional schools, they relished spending an entire week studying and discussing very difficult readings at least six hours a day, more than double the usual college class-day hours.

I hope you’ve had a chance to see the short videos we had made last year. You can hear the students, assistant instructors, and interested professionals recount the immense intellectual and practical value in our program.

Student by student, we transform lives, and these students go back to the world, empowered to turn the tide away from collectivism and towards reason, individualism, and freedom.

You are making all this happen. Our enduring thanks for your generous and important support through your contribution this year. Your gift and others enabled us to offer some travel aid this year, allowing Saurav Ghimire and Saulo Maciel to attend the program from Nepal and Brazil respectively. Each is taking back what they learned to teach others in their countries. I hope you feel free to contact me any time about the program – or anything else for that matter!

“Life-altering is used much too lightly, much too often. However, when I say the seminar was life-altering, I mean it with the heaviness of a woman who is in awe of her experience.”

— Sarrah Ali (at left), Senior, Cypress Creek High School, Houston, Texas

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