Welcome from the Director
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the John Locke Institute. Let me introduce you to our aims and explain how we try to achieve them.
The John Locke Institute exists for the benefit of exceptional students. These are the students who have the most to gain from an intensive close engagement with the Institute's world-class academics. Our blend of innovative and traditional learning techniques is designed to help elite students unleash their potential, and the company of other capable, motivated students creates a mutually-reinforcing community of aspiration and achievement.
But these exceptional students are also the people from whom we rightly expect the most, and - as those who will exercise power and influence in the future - these are the students for whom a careful training in critical reasoning will have the greatest positive impact on future generations. It is with this sense of mission that the John Locke Institute aims, above all else, to teach the principles of rigorous, logical, analytical, rational thought.
In the course of a dozen or more years of formal schooling, students acquire a great deal of information. In former times information was cherished because it was scarce, but today information is more abundant than our great-grandparents could have predicted, and far more abundant than their great-grandparents could have imagined. There are one billion websites in the world. Just one of these sites hosts 38 million articles, accessed by 500 million people each month. The mere transmission of information is therefore one of the least valuable functions schools perform.
Far more important are the thinking skills necessary to process, evaluate and use information to form sound judgments about difficult or controversial questions, and the skills of expression to organise one's thoughts to offer an articulate, persuasive case in favour of those judgments.
And yet intelligent students find themselves surrounded by unchallenged assumptions, submerged in a culture of sloppy thinking. Educational fashions may extend tolerance and pluralism too far, and the ill-formed opinions of confident ignorance are often immune from robust criticism. Examination mark schemes reward not precise thought and commitment to truth, but any plausible-sounding answer that remembers to mention all the points the student was asked to memorise. So, through our summer schools, gap year programmes, and other short courses, the John Locke Institute makes a very valuable contribution to the development of the very brightest students in the United Kingdom, the United States, and around the world.
I hope I may have the pleasure of seeing you on one of our courses, and welcoming you into our nourishing and inspiring community of students and alumni. Please email me directly if there is anything I can do to help you make up your mind to join us.
John Locke Institute
Ten Key Tenets of the John Locke Institute
An Inspiring Faculty
Nearly all our teachers are drawn from the University of Oxford or Princeton University. They are selected not only for their expertise but for their ability to communicate enthusiasm for learning and passion for their subject, and their ability to motivate and encourage their students to the highest level of attainment.
Places on most of our courses are awarded by competitive application. Students are assessed, by means of a written application and an admissions interview, to identify the most intelligent and the most motivated students we can find. The environments we create are therefore stimulating and intellectually charged.
Particularly in the United States 'diversity' has become a mantra, and universities aim for a mixture of ethnicities and skin colours. True diversity, though, is about a variety of experiences, opinions, perspectives, cultures and circumstances. We would be concerned if all our students looked alike (and happily they do not), but more concerned if they all thought alike. So we deliberately bring together students who, by their differences, are able to challenge one another to consider alien points of view and to think of their own position as one among many possible positions, not as a fixed and secure reference point from which to criticise everyone else.
No Idea Unchallenged
We insist that every student, teacher and staff-member should address every other person with kindness and sensitivity but there is no refuge for unexamined beliefs. Every participant in every course is encouraged to welcome robust challenges, and sometimes to expect passionate disagreement, in the context of a courteous and civilised exchange of views. We think it is possible to be tough with ideas, but gentle with people.
A Focus on Contestable Concepts
Most of our courses include subjects, such as philosophy, politics, economics and history, in which many of the answers are not able to
be arrived at by looking up a textbook, but rather require arbitrating between conflicting arguments and interpreting ambiguous evidence. In doing so our students, we hope, learn to become generous listeners, willing to receive attentively, and examine critically, any new argument or claim, irrespective of how unlikely (or unfashionable) it might seem at first glance.
Learn in Relationship
Reading books, watching podcasts and attending lectures are all worthwhile, but something special happens when learning takes place in the context of a relationship. With one-on-one tutorials and small-group seminars, our students and our teachers really get to know one another.
At our summer school there is no High Table for the academics to sit apart from the students; instead students, tutors and other staff all dine together. Even on trips to the WWII landing beaches, or taking a canoe down the River Orne in the Suisse Normande, tutors and students will form close connections. In addition, we encourage our students to teach one another from time to time, which often is the very best way to learn.
Build a Community
More than simply delivering an educational service, the John Locke Institute is creating a community of highly educated, effective people. Once you have attended one of our courses you will be a Life Member of the John Locke Institute Alumni Association. My favourite part of being director of the Institute is seeing our recent alumni head off to great universities around the world, or our older alumni who are building exciting and prestigious careers in business, finance, consulting and politics. In recent weeks I have visited alumni in New York, London, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In the next few weeks I will be meeting alumni at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Berkeley and Stanford. Our alumni are eager to help those who are following in their footsteps, with university admissions advice, career guidance, or introductions to interesting and helpful people.
Recognise Cognitive Bias
The greatest barriers to the application of reason are often the large number of insidious and pernicious psychological biases, self-deceptions and popular fallacies. We help our students to recognise (in themselves and others) decision-making, belief, behavioural and attributional biases, and memory effects. By learning from psychologists and behavioural economists about how we really form our beliefs and choose our actions, we can arm ourselves agains these distortions of rationality.
Innovative Learning Techniques
Much of what happens in schools today has not changed radically in over a century. This may be because tried and tested methods deserve to endure, but it may instead be because schools are some of the most risk averse institutions in modern society, unwilling to experiment or implement the valuable insights of contemporary educational psychologists and other academics in the field of education. The John Locke Institute relies heavily on Oxford-style individual tutorials, which have been a defining characteristic of Oxford and Cambridge since the Nineteenth Century. But we also teach using more adventurous techniques with an emphasis on a deeper and longer-lasting penetration of our students' thoughts. To take three examples from my own discipline, Economics, our students have learned about the concavity of utility functions and the algebra of risk appetite and insurance markets by playing a television game show; they have studied Quantitative Easing and inflationary monetary policy by playing a specially adapted version of Monopoly; and they were introduced to the game theory of Mixed Strategy Nash Equilibrium by applying it to the invasion of Normandy by the Allied forces in 1944, and sketching a pay-off matrix (with the handle of a cricket bat) on the sands of Omaha Beach.
Work & Play, Head & Heart
Part of the reason for innovative learning techniques is to make learning quicker and more effective, but another reason is to motivate our students to be hungry for learning. We want them to think of the acquisition of knowledge, skills and understanding as an exciting privilege, not a dull chore. We also want our students to take away with them happy memories, cultural appreciation and lifelong friendships. Finally, we know that highly educated, very bright students can sometimes be arrogant and insufferable! We try to develop in our students an intellectual humility and we encourage our students to cultivate kindness and compassion alongside their intellectual gifts. We have succeeded if our students have a hard head and a soft heart!