Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This Friday, a trio of sophomores, Owen Weitzman ‘17, Victor Gomes ‘17, and Karl Palmquist ‘17, unveiled their newest idea to vivify the liberal arts: Peripeteia.
The group’s goal is to put together a series of mini-seminars to be taught by anyone in the campus community about anything they want. There would be no prerequisites, grades or evaluations of any kind. The central codifying objective of Peripeteia, which means “turning point,” is to rejuvenate the liberal arts by promoting learning for learning’s sake. From their manifesto: “We need Peripeteia because we need to learn for fun, and only for fun, again.” The program’s conception is also partially in response to the school’s gradual loss of campus traditions, such as Friday Collection, Crunkfest, and Senior Week.
To launch the program, the group hopes to start with a weekend pilot on the first weekend of spring semester. To ensure busy Swatties will have the time to attend this pilot program, the group asked faculty whether it would be possible to reduce the workload in classes during the first week, and that possibility is now under consideration.
For this pilot program, the group will try to get as many mini seminars as possible, though if too many people sign up to teach courses, they will attempt to bring together people with similar ideas for courses. Materials for the courses will be funded through Peripeteia and teachers may assign short preliminary readings for their course if desired.
Classes could range from any number of topics: from current events to hands-on classes like baking to topics covered by student groups like SLAP and various cultural groups like SAO or ABLLE, to interdisciplinary topics like “the meaning of life” that could be approached from philosophical, anthropological, or religious angles.
On Wednesday, September 10, the group met with the faculty at a luncheon with about 80 faculty members to pitch its idea and was met with support. The group currently has 7 interested faculty liaisons: Peter Baumann, Sunka Simon, Tomoko Sakumora, Daniel Grodner, Carl Grossman, Nick Kaplinsky, and Ben Berger. Martin Warner, the Registrar, upon hearing about this project, even suggested offering a half credit to those willing to put together a Peripeteia course. Former President Chopp, who was consulted in the initial stages of the idea last year, suggested Peripeteia hold another weekend of mini-seminars geared towards alumni.
The group is hoping to expand the program in future years to span multiple weeks, involve students from Chester, bring in alumni to teach mini seminars, and possibly provide childcare to enable professors to come in and teach on the weekend.
During the meeting, Palmquist said, “Swarthmore is a liberal arts college; we all came here because we’re interested in multiple things. Peripeteia would encourage collaboration and try to get you to think outside your discipline. It would try to get professors to collaborate with students. It would try to get students to teach. It would really try to get people to not feel like they’re limited.”
This kind of project has precedent at other schools: MIT has IAP, or Independent Activities Periods, a three week program, and Reed has Paideia, which lasts a week, both of which have essentially the same objectives as Peripeteia, to foster ungraded, independent, out-of-the-box learning. This year, IAP courses included welding, jewelrymaking, figure skating, craft bartending, writing cover letters, electric guitar building, and conflict resolution while Paideia featured the history of punk and even a fire show. MIT also has a similar program called Splash geared towards high school students, where Weitzman attended a course on the mathematics of music in freshman year of high school.
The President’s Office funded this preliminary meeting, though in the future, the group looks to find funding from the Aydelott Foundation, the Lang Center, and the Center for Innovation and Leadership, along with departmental funding.
Murtaza Khomusi ‘18, an attendee at the unveiling, said, “It seems like a hybrid between Coursera and things that they do at hackathons where they have two days of quick courses for participants, like API 101 in four hours, so I think it’s cool.” Other students thought the plan for the project could be more solidified.
The point was well taken: in a discussion with The Daily Gazette after the meeting, Weitzman said, “After we get the word out, we’re going to work on fleshing out the idea to the point where we could actually pull it off. There’s a lot of details and one of the next things we need to nail down what makes sense and what we can accomplish.”
As there is already a magazine of Christian discourse on campus with a similar name, Peripateo, Weitzman also noted that the group’s name may be subject to change in the future.
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