Here's just a small sampling of the courses we have conducted and participant responses that we have received from students and instructors:
Othello, William Shakespeare
In the course on Shakespeare’s Othello, students reckon with jealousy, betrayal, racism and intrigues with life-altering consequences. They deal with strange language meant to complicate their readings and alter their perspectives, all while navigating Iago’s intricate plan to destroy his rival, regardless of the consequences. Othello’s rise and fall challenges students to understand the roles of timing and coincidence in our lives, and brings about a discussion of fate and agency in an uncertain world. Students learn to discuss difficult topics like racism in meaningful ways while maintaining a respectful classroom environment, a skill that is transferable to the difficult situations we face in life.
“My ability to convey my thoughts by stating a thesis and arguing separate points and supporting it improved considerably. The ability to articulate myself in these essays is a benefit I was able to apply in my everyday communication. I also enjoyed the selected books. The initial views I had on characters and situations from the readings would sometimes be swayed after the class discussions. I was able to see things from a new point of view. I also found myself relating to some of the mannerisms and moral conflicting characteristics of characters in the books. This outside perspective of myself and some of the traits I exhibit was extremely enlightening and probably would not have been gained from casual reading.”
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
In the course students are introduced to life in Soviet Russia under Stalin, Roman Judea under Pilate, and a devil the likes of which they’ve never met before. A novel within the novel and the fantastic plot twists mean that students must engage in close reading, allowing them to extract multiple layers of meaning from each scene. Dealing with the question, “what is truth?” throughout the course of the novel forces students to confront their preconceived notions about truth and complicates their understanding of reality, allowing students to break free from what is in order to look to what could be.
“We spent two mornings a week discussing The Master and Margarita. When I read the book, I was overwhelmed. I worried that students would not be able to take on the challenge and resent our class. I am so glad I was wrong. While the book was quite challenging for them, they did not give up. Kaitlin inspired lively conversation, critical thinking and in-depth analysis from a group that many would consider to be apathetic to advanced learning. Every time we had a student return I felt genuine joy. It was so validating to know that they knew who we were and what our class was about and chose to come back time and again.”
Alina Valera, TA
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
In this course, we meet an unlikely pair of friends: child reader-in-progress Liesel, and her lifelong companion (and the book’s narrator), Death. Dealing with the both the destructive and the healing powers of storytelling, The Book Thief asks: How does literature tell histories, and whose histories does it tell? What is the connection between reading and identity? Throughout this course, we will examine the significance of literacy as one small event against huge world events, perform close-readings of the novel, and reflect on our own evolving relationships to the written word.
“With little prompting, this group of two-dozen grown men reflected on their own feelings toward the twelve-year-old protagonist. They take her story seriously, empathizing with her attempts at literacy and with the way reading fills her life. I taught them my lay understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and we had to pause class so they could scribble down their notes. I tell them over and over again to read slowly. They seem to feel validated that I do not want them to gobble up the words but to dwell on them, with the one resource they have in abundance—time.”
Aubrey Plourde, Instructor