Your Torrey sessions are discussions in which you, your group, and a Torrey tutor work together to join the great conversation happening in the curriculum. Torrey classes are (approximately) three hour sessions in which we deepen our practice of reading together. Good reading is a necessary condition for good discussion. In session, the book is your main teacher; the tutor, who has more practice at reading, is your guide; and the rest of your group are your co-laborers. Torrey sessions hinge on your active intellectual engagement with the book, with your peers, with the tutor, and with the living conversation you all are building.
In session, the journey is almost but not quite as important as the destination. In order to discover what you do not already know, you often need to say what you think you know, what you think you don’t know, and what you know you don’t know. Though you’ll try to put on your most academic personae for session, you do in fact, and increasingly, show up as whole persons full of your real opinions, desires, histories, prejudices, ideals, and more. This is good; it’s the best way to truly learn. Additionally, session is not about winning or losing. Session opens up the opportunity for genuine collaboration and positively reinforces the most collaborative moments. Truth is the sort of good that is quite worth sharing.
There are many skills to develop to help make shared learning more fruitful. As you talk together, you have time to grow in logic, clarity, eloquence, and wisdom.
But there are lots of ways that sitting in a room with a bunch of other college students and trying to talk about hard books feels frustrating. Take heart. Even on the days you fear that nothing will come of your discussion, you have ample opportunity to grow in patience, wonder, and charity.
You are required to attend all sessions with your group. Any notable tardiness or excessive break taking may result in grade penalty. Unexcused absences are penalized heavily.
You must consult your mentor in advance to request any absence from session with your assigned group. Mentors will excuse legitimate absences and will require appropriate make-up work, which often includes attendance and participation in another group’s session.
No absences will be excused for holiday travel.
You take notes in session to capture crucial questions and key insights as well as to trace the general shape of the conversation. There is a kind of note-taking that is an obstacle to your active participation in session, but a healthy note-taking practice actually helps you pay attention to the living conversation that your group is crafting. Your In-class Notes are due at Mid and Don Rags.
In Torrey sessions, each of you is responsible to the other for the conversation you create as a cohort. Session depends almost entirely on what you each bring to the room, both in terms of thoughtful preparation and active participation. You are required to participate in every session. Participation includes actively listening throughout session as well as speaking in good measure. Failure to contribute verbally to each discussion will result in grade penalty.
Silence is not the only kind of failure, nor is talking the only measure of success. For some, gathering your thoughts before speaking will mark significant growth. For others, having the guts to share your unfinished thought will be a mile-stone. All of you share the challenge of learning to hear what your peers are actually saying and to connect your own thoughts to the conversation happening in the room. What is more, whatever your participation skills when you begin, you are expected to grow in your capacity to meaningfully contribute to sessions, which, over time, offer you the opportunity to cultivate numerous discursive skills.
As juniors and seniors, after you have spent hundreds of hours talking in session, your new assignment is to lead session. It’s not altogether new, though. You’ve already practiced so many of the skills you’ll be harnessing for the assignment. As session leaders, you should ask fruitful questions, direct conversation without dominating, empower others to speak, facilitate disagreements peacefully and productively, and steer the group from its variety of opinion toward unity of thought. Of course, all of the discussion skills must be partnered with your careful, thoughtful, and faithful reading of the text.
In both houses, students lead session after having completed the mandatory curriculum. Johnson House students lead session for “On Learning and Knowledge” and “On History and Rhetoric.” Morgan house students lead session for “Revivalism and Romanticism,” “Nineteenth Century Thought,” “America,” and “Twentieth Century Thought.”
Tutors supervise your session-leading. In preparation for session, you are required to have at least one 30 minute meeting with the session tutor at least seven days in advance of the session you are to lead (unless the tutor permits otherwise). Preparation for that meeting includes careful reading of the whole assigned text and substantial session planning (albeit provisional). Students who lead session will receive constructive feedback from the tutor and the group. Your preparation for and leadership of session is part of your participation score.
Because sessions are shared space for shared work, they require the practice of hospitality. In order for your bonds with one another to be bonds of truth-seeking, you will need to invite each other into the work you’re trying to do. Our language gets in the way of this practice when our speech excludes potential conversation partners by promoting unexamined biases and judgments. We call language discriminatory when it uses stereotypes or terms that demean persons or groups; this language often generalizes on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, sexuality, language or national origin. Such speech sabotages the work of this learning community both for those who use it and those who endure it; avoid using it.
Additionally, hold it in mind that you don’t know enough about your neighbor to assume that your experience is also his or her experience. Speak in ways that honor differences between your and others’ experiences so that you can subject your judgments to one another’s scrutiny and, when appropriate, revise your account of reality to be more truthful.
Our vision for hospitality is not a demand for perfection. "We all stumble in many ways," says James 3:2, and "if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way." (NLT) But to grow, you’ll have to scrutinize your intentions and learn to avoid giving offense and to reconcile when you offend or are offended. Learning to do so will strengthen the bond of truth-seeking by tying it to the love of God and others.
You are not allowed online or on your phone during session without explicit permission from the tutor. Unless you have mentor permission, laptop use during session is discouraged since it tends to disrupt attention and create interpersonal barriers
Guests are generally welcome to observe Torrey sessions. If you would like to invite a guest, please follow appropriate protocol, which includes consulting the department staff and e-mailing the tutor to request permission. Guests should not speak unless invited by the tutor.
There are no programmed breaks in a Torrey session. You are only at liberty to take a break that is necessary to your sustained participation in the discussion.
You are not at liberty to leave class to purchase any food or drink, but you are permitted to consume food or drink that you bring to session.
Session will usually include about fifteen minutes for group devotionals, most often at their beginning. Devotional times are direct and explicit efforts to increase fellowship with one another and with God. Of course, all of session is done together and by God’s help. Still, devoting time to intercessory prayer, the instruction of the Scriptures, the praise of God, and more has the potential to build up the true life of your group and the dedication of your studies to His kingdom ends.
In session, you address one another by the titles Mr., Ms. (or Miss or Mrs.), and the tutor by the title Dr. or Professor followed by last names. Tutors, likewise, address you by the titles Mr., Ms. (or Miss or Mrs.). This practice of formality symbolizes respectful collegiality for the sake of rigorous academic discourse between friends.