Sphere College Project

A New World of Learning

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Less is More

So much has been happening with Sphere College lately it’s hard to know how to catch up my readers. I’ll just attempt to outline the major developments.

First, we just completed the fourth week of classes. We discussed Gilgamesh for the first three weeks, and have now moved on to Genesis (translation by Robert Alter). My approach is to simply allow the discussion to go where the students want to take it, rather than forcing my own agenda. I’ve learned a great deal this way, and it is my hope that the students have as well. They are so enthusiastic that this approach works quite well. I do have to work hard to step back but as long as I realize the ensuing discussion is one the students feel invested in, it’s not too difficult. Unfortunately, two hours per week is not really enough to stretch out our discussions, but at least we get a taste for the depth with which the texts could be treated. My plan for the future is to raise money in order to hire students to do necessary work for the college while providing them with the flexibility to pursue their studies.

Next up: this past week brought some really wonderful news. I finally hired an assistant! Stephen Walsh, one of the Sphere students, opted to quit his stable job and jump into the unknown to help chart new territory. We’re off to a great start. It is extremely helpful to have someone else to bounce ideas off of and who can take on some critical projects.

Also during the past week I made a trip down to North Carolina. While there I met with several people who are responsible for the success of the Black Mountain College Museum (http://blackmountaincollege.org/). I highly recommend a visit to the museum at 56 Broadway in Asheville, NC. Each time I’ve visited they’ve had a fascinating exhibit. The current one highlights the work of three women of Black Mountain College: Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa and M.C. Richards. Richards eventually moved to Camphill Village Kimberton Hills, PA, just a few miles from Phoenixville (where Sphere College is located). While visiting the museum I purchased a copy of the documentary film “M.C. Richards: The Fire Within”. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but plan to get to it very soon.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be forming a Steering Commitee for Sphere College made up of students of the College. I look forward to the discussions we’ll have and the creative solutions that will emerge for the problems we’re already encountering, as well as for those that will inevitably arise. And if I can continue to keep from tampering too much, I imagine things should continue to move along relatively smoothly.

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Week Two

The second week of Sphere College classes completed today. I found two two-hour slots, secured the locations and contacted all the students. Some of the students couldn’t make the new time on such short notice, but we met at a different time on Wed night, just for this week, so there were actually three different class meetings. It was fascinating how dramatically different all the discussions were, even when exactly the same material was being covered. In fact, in the last class as far as the actual material went we only “covered” the first sentence of the chapter—actually not even the whole sentence—and it was a truly fantastic discussion (as all three were).

These students are a superb group. It is an honor to get to meet with them. I hope that it won’t be long before others get to experience some of what they produce.


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Learning from the Best

Last night my sister, Lyn, a former student, Scott Kulp, and I attended a lecture in NYC about Black Mountain College (http://www.opencenter.org/black-mountain-the-extraordinary-experiment/) which, as I’ve already mentioned, heavily influenced the thinking behind Sphere College. The panelists were all at BMC in its later years and I learned an enormous amount about teaching, learning and organizational structure by hearing their stories. I’m so thankful that this session was organized, and in the future I hope to have the opportunity to speak more with these panelists and others who attended BMC. I plan to be down in NC at the end of May and will be stopping in on the Black Mountain College Museum in Asheville, which I highly encourage everyone to do.

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Starting Classes

On Tuesday the two classes of Sphere met for one hour each. I got the sense that each of the students really enjoyed being part of an enthusiastic and diverse group of individuals coming together, starting to get to know one another and discussing something they’re very interested in. The meetings seemed to be very successful, and the students should be congratulated for their willingness to take the time out of their schedules, to think deeply about the reading and to open up their thoughts to others.

It was abundantly clear, however, that one hour per week is not enough time to do justice to their efforts and to the readings, so it’s back to the scheduling drawing board for me to see if I can come up with something better. I’ll be trying to figure out how to get two hours per week for all the students. This will be tough, but we’ll see what I can do.

In the ‘Application and Learning Agreement’ (created largely by Pete Grauer with feedback from Garrett Sees, two of the students!), each person was asked about their interests and amount of time per week they can commit to their education. I’ve been looking at these to see who may like to participate in the development of the College itself as part of their learning activity. Priscilla Waggoner and Garrett are deeply interested in history (Priscilla has actually already earned a Ph.D. in History from UCLA and Garrett—well, just get him started talking about Alfred the Great and then you’ll understand) so they are becoming the archivists and historians of the College. Since Sphere College is heavily influenced by Black Mountain College, part of Priscilla’s and Garrett’s education is to begin learning about Black Mountain and how it is related to Sphere College. This is precisely the kind of learning activity I hope the College will be able to provide for all the students throughout their experience.

(Update to this update: I just finished rescheduling and was able to find 2 hours/week to get people together.)


Happy Sphere Eve

Hi all,

Great news: classes start tomorrow (Tue, May 5)! There are 15 very enthusiastic students (co-learners, symmathetes) signed up (another student just joined tonight). They come from many different backgrounds, ages, income levels, ethnic groups, genders (well, both), etc., divided into two groups according to their schedules. One group will meet at 4pm at Wolfgang Books and the other will meet at 7pm in the Colonial Theatre. They’ll all have read the first bit of Gilgamesh so we’ll be ready to dive into some interesting discussion right off the bat, and we’ll also spend some time getting to know one another. Unfortunately, not everyone can be at the first class meetings, but that’s the way it goes. There will be time.

The hardest part of my work seems almost done. From here on out the College will largely be carried by the students in whatever way they can and wish to. I certainly hope you get to hear from them more than you hear from me, although I have appreciated your listening and your support up to this point. But from here on out it is they who will need our listening and support the most, so that’s my priority for where my energies will be placed. I will continue to update this blog, though, and if you aren’t getting enough in the way of updates, please feel free to ask and I’ll post something. It would be particularly helpful if you post or send a question. This will help me know what you’re most interested in hearing about.

Ok, it’s late and it’s time to sleep. Have a great week, and please keep the students in your thoughts.