My daughter went to a school with one of the best biology departments in the country. She majored in biology, graduated summa cum laude, and went to UCSF for her doctorate.
But her college also demanded a History of the World class that lasted for two years; she chose the school for that reason, too. History, science, art – she loved it all.
Sometimes I mourn the fact that one has to concentrate on only one thing in graduate school (I’ve been to graduate school too, so I know). What a pity not to be able to keep taking other subjects…
A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from her: “I thought you might be interested in this…” And a link. I clicked on it – and what should it be but a class in Egyptology, taught by two professors from the Autonomous University of Barcelona!
I e-mailed her back: “Looks fascinating – are you interested? Too bad you’re completely tied up in science and can’t do some humanities!” She responded, “It’s a free internet course. I signed up already.”
Who would have imagined? I looked at it more carefully, listened to the two professors explaining what they were planning to teach (in Spanish, of course!) and wrote back to her, “OK, you talked me into it – I’m on board.” I thought she might be sorry she told me, but no: “Good! Now if I get confused you can help me.”
Nor was that all – she told me she’d signed up for another class, Greek and Roman mythology, taught by a professor at U. Penn. I looked at that one, and signed up for it too! I apologized for seeming to stalk her, but she e-mailed me back: “Don’t apologize, this will be fun! Maybe. I dunno. I’m nervous about the Spanish one…”
I had never forgotten a class I sat in on at Currier House, taught by a brilliant Indo-European scholar, Gregory Nagy, on the Iliad, the Odyssey, Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days. Now I would have a chance, decades later, to retake the class. And retake it with my daughter. All I had to do was get the prescribed editions and wait till April, which is when it’s scheduled to start.
I was so excited that I called my sister and told her about the mythology class. I sent her the link, in case she wanted to take it. No, she was more interested in a class on English common law; she thought she’d sign up for that one.
Then I e-mailed my friend Julia, a native Mandarin speaker and a former software engineering manager who switched to working for an education nonprofit some years ago. I sent her a link to 6 classes in Mandarin, including one about Chinese opera, which I knew she had a weakness for.
She e-mailed me back immediately: “I love it! And that’s just the one short page you sent me. I can’t wait to be retired so I can take all these classes!”
What is it that makes us want to go back and learn? My father was a child of the Depression; his father died when he was six. He was never able to save up the dollar required to become an Eagle Scout then, let alone find the money to go to college in the hardscrabble 1930s. He worked until he was 63 and then retired. He started taking painting classes then, and a year before he died, he enrolled in junior college and began taking history classes. He got an A in his first class, American History, and the professor asked him to become a tutor (American history was a requirement, and many students had difficulty with it). “They’ll pay you,” she offered. “I don’t need to be paid,” he said. “I’m happy to do it.”
So for all of you armchair students out there, listen up. Here’s the link to the outfit that’s offering my classes: https://www.coursera.org/about . Full disclosure: I have no connection to them, except the two courses I’m signed up for.
If it’s time for you to get back to class (in the comfort of your own living room), here’s your chance. Anything from Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World to A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers; take a look at the class listings. I just want to warn you about one thing: my mythology class starts on April 22, and I’m going to need one of the library’s copies of the Robert Fagles edition of the Odyssey. If you want to take the class, you can get out the second copy, get another copy on Link+, or you can use the online texts at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/. And if you don’t know how to use Link+, ask a librarian!