Volume 16, Issue 23 - June 5 - June 11, 2008

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Turning Dreams into Action

Johnnies’ trade mission exports the college’s liberal education

by Erica Stratton, Bay Weekly Intern

You might never visit the country of Georgia, halfway across the world and 17 years out of the shadow of the U.S.S.R. But if you send a dollar there, you can start a revolution.

No, this is not a Spam scam.

Your dollar will help Georgian Nini Aduashvili, a freshman at St. John’s College, revive her country’s culture by exporting the values St. John’s is famous for: liberal arts education.

On June 12, Aduashvili and a four-person St. John’s team travel to Georgia to share the way they learn — by reading and asking questions — with Grigol Robakidze University. The Johnnies will gain knowledge in return when they travel to western Georgia, where old traditions in dance and storytelling thrive. From this mixing of Socratic learning with Georgian culture will come the yeast to raise a new generation of students.

They want to “create a space where this great and open-minded people can understand things as a whole,” says Aduashvili. “That would make Georgia as a country work better.”

The 21st century Georgian economy is unsteadied by a top-heavy workforce. “The problem is that even though many people are educated as professionals, the country has a very high unemployment rate — 30 percent of the population is unemployed,” says Noel Brockett, a St. John’s senior who is Aduashvili’s partner in the project.

“You have taxi drivers that have Ph.Ds,” Aduashvili says. It’s her hope that a broad, liberal education will give Georgians flexibility and vision.

In Georgia, Aduashvili attended an English-language high school and fell in love with Georgia’s ancient philosophical history. Learning of the St. John’s program from an American abroad, she wrote her admittance essay on her big idea: “It was crucial for me to come to St. John’s because I wanted to bring liberal education to my country,” Aduashvili said. “I saw that as the source through which my country would fulfill its potential and be able to interact with the world.” She won a full scholarship.

She counts on the St. John’s approach — group discussion rather than standardized testing — first to create community, then to help Georgia rediscover its wise roots.

But the expedition needs money to live up to its dreams.

Dollar by dollar, $5,700 has come in from donations solicited on the group’s website, www.liberaleducationgeorgia.org. Their goal is to reach 13,000 people, says Brockett, who will become 13,000 friends of Georgia “who know about it and support it and want to hear about it when we come back.”

The money is enough to send the team to Georgia. But so they can eat once they arrive, they need $7,500 more by June 12.

“Currently there isn’t a vision of how Georgia could be in the future, but we say there is a way in which they can [both] relate to their past and be more active in the present,” Aduashvili says.

To make such dreams come true, a dollar is your price.

Spend your dollar at www.liberaleducationgeorgia.org.

2008 St. John’s grad Erica Stratton is Bay Weekly’s summer intern.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.