Sphere College Project

A New World of Learning


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Off We Go!

Whew! What a wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating and rewarding week. Sphere College effectively began on Monday, April 20 as small groups of potential students (co-learners*) and other interested parties came together at various times and in different venues. Everyone had an opportunity to learn more about the current status of the College and to get all their questions answered before deciding whether to sign up. And sign up they did. We even started reading Gilgamesh together!

The eleven students who have signed learning agreements thus far will bring a very broad range of life experience and world view to the discussions. More students may also join over the next day or so, further enhancing the mix.

My primary responsibility from here on out is to act as caretaker** of the project, a responsibility I look forward to with a mixture of excitement, trepidation, wonder, and probably some indescribable mixture of feelings that have been experienced by all those who have ventured before into unknown territory. I imagine the students will also experience this—maybe some have already begun to experience. And I applaud them for taking this first step with me. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I hope to prove myself to be a worthy caretaker, and that my co-learners will be forgiving along the way.

Once I have the signed applications and learning agreements from as many people as I believe are planning to join the first group, my next task is to schedule the class(es). It is highly unlikely that all members of the first group will be able to be scheduled at the same time, so they will probably have to split into two groups. Perhaps smaller groups would be good in the beginning anyway, although it would be nice if all the students could learn from each other. Tradeoffs—always tradeoffs.

At this point I should probably think of some cogent remark to give the College a nice sendoff. I can come up with nothing better than “Let the fun begin!”


* Still looking for a good word to describe those of us—“students” and “teachers”—who will be part of the College curriculum. A pre-existing word would be fine, but somehow I suspect there’s no word in our language that captures the expectation that the teachers will be no different than the students in many ways. The teachers will learn as much as the students—perhaps more—and the students will teach the teachers as well as each other. Maybe I just can’t think of the right word, but it seems as though the lack of such a word in our language would speak volumes on our assumptions concerning the nature of learning.
** Thanks go to Joe Laskowski, one of the students, for suggesting the word “caretaker”.


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Added a Meeting

Because a couple of people couldn’t make it to the meeting times I scheduled I added an additional one at Steel City at 10AM on Thu. So the list of remaining meetings is:

  • Wed, April 22, 5:30PM, Wolfgang Books, 237 Bridge Street 2nd Floor
  • Thu, April 23, 10AM and 1PM, Steel City Coffee House, 203 Bridge Street
  • Fri, April 24, 2PM, Artisans Gallery and Cafe, 236 Bridge Street

Feel free to drop in!


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Getting Sphere Rolling

Well, right after the assistants materialized they evaporated due to some unfortunate economic news, so I’m back where I was without an assistant. But no matter… I had already decided that I was going to start classes, so I’m moving forward with the plans.

To get things started, I’m going to hold a series of meetings at different times throughout the week of April 19-26 and invite everyone who has indicated an interest in participating in the college as a student (co-learner) to attend one of them. In the meeting I’ll have a discussion with them to make sure everyone fully understands what the college is about, and also understands that they’ll have a responsibility to the other people with whom—and from whom—they will be learning. I’ll collect their schedules and ask them to estimate the amount of time they can commit to their education each week, then divide them accordingly into two peer groups. I’ll also hand out the first textbook, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and go ahead and briefly begin reading and discussing it with them.

I’ll also be collecting information from them about what they expect from their education—asking them what it means to them to achieve a high-quality education. This information can then be used by them to assess their own progress, and for the college to use for external assessment during the accreditation process.

Currently there are five meetings scheduled:

  • Mon, April 20, 8pm, Phoenixville Civic Center, 123 Main St
  • Tue, April 21, 7pm, St. John’s United Church of Christ, 315 Gay St (This is a regular Diversity in Action meeting)
  • Wed, April 22, 5:30pm, Wolfgang Books, 237 Bridge Street 2nd Floor
  • Thu, April 23, 1pm, Steel City Coffee House, 203 Bridge Street
  • Fri, April 24, 2pm, Artisans Gallery and Cafe, 236 Bridge Street

This list will be updated as more meetings are added. Please feel free to attend, and please pass the word along to anyone else who may be interested!


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A Very Good Friday

There is some very good news to report today:

Just a couple of days ago I concluded that instead of waiting for an assistant to materialize I just would go ahead and begin the Phase I classes. I mean, people are ready to start learning (some have been waiting for quite some time!), I’m ready to start teaching (facilitating learning, really), I have a set of books collected by members of the Ursinus College ACM ready to hand out, and the space is available. I was concerned that starting classes may cause me to become even more overwhelmed than I already am, but I decided I would just approach the students (a more descriptive word would be nice; something like co-learners, but that sounds a bit trite—maybe the ‘students’ themselves will come up with something better) and ask whether anyone would like to participate in the formation of the college. This could make for an excellent practical experience in itself.

And then…

While speaking with a friend today he offered to donate the time of a couple of his employees as assistants (after checking with them). If this works out, then in addition to the Ursinus College students who are already assisting in this effort as interns, the school will soon have people who will dedicate time each week in support of the project. The details still need to be worked out, but with this development it appears as though a truly a significant hurdle is being cleared. I’ll still ask the students to participate in the formation of the college, but the new assistants will provide a degree of coherence necessary for success. It is my hope that from here on out the college will begin to take on a life of its own, developing momentum and finding its way.

The next step is to schedule the initial meeting(s) of all the participants (students and Advisory Group members) to make sure everyone is on the same page, collect their schedules, set up the meetings and get things rolling!


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More of the Picture

Sometimes when I’m discussing the College there are so many details to go through that I forget to spell out some important parts of the picture:

  • Enabling people to acquire valuable market skills, this project seems likely to contribute to individual and societal economic recovery.
  • Enabling people to acquire a deeper sense of self, this project seems likely to help people learn how to interact effectively with others.
  • Enabling people to acquire the confidence to succeed, this project seems likely to decrease crime, which will in turn have many positive societal effects.
  • Enabling people to acquire a greater knowledge of history, this project seems likely to help people avoid the mistakes of the past.
  • Enabling people to acquire discerning taste, this project seems likely to contribute to a vibrant and flourishing arts culture.
  • Enabling people to to acquire greater knowledge of humanity, this project seems likely to help people create a better world.

That about sums it up.

Is this all an exaggeration? I don’t think so, but wouldn’t it be wise and fun to find out?

There has been progress in recent weeks (even with me being sick for one of the weeks). However, I’m still working out how to get a full-time assistant/coordinator and an umbrella non-profit so we can begin doing serious fundraising. I’ve made great contacts and there are some prospects in the works for the non-profit, but there’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem. The assistant/coordinator seems to be the greatest need right now. If anyone is able to take any action to make this happen I would be most appreciative, as would the students who are waiting to start classes!

I look forward to reporting more exciting and concrete news in the next post.

Richard