Port Townsend Leader, Mar 14, 2018
“I hate Shakespeare.”
It’s the line every teacher of the Bard has heard at least once, probably more.
Arendt Speser takes that comment as a personal challenge.
Speser is the academic director of the Jefferson Clemente Course in the Humanities, which offers free college-level courses to low-income adults.
This year, the class he is leading will be introduced to “Julius Caesar” through a public reading the class is presenting at The Boiler Room next week.
“I don’t expect everyone to love 'Caesar' by the end of our sessions, but I do hope to encourage a new enthusiasm for the old Bard,” Speser said.
The student readings take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., April 23 and 25 at The Boiler Room, 711 Water St.
Including a Shakespeare play in the Clemente Course is standard; the play can change from year to year.
“It can vary depending on the course theme and instructor preference,” said Speser.
This year, Speser chose “Julius Caesar” to tie into the Royal National Theatre of London performance of that play, which will be screened at The Rose Theatre April 21 and 29.
“I have no doubt in my mind they picked this play because of what it says to our current political climate.”
“‘Caesar,’” Speser said, taps into issues of power, corruption and the tension between tyranny and democracy. “In a more intimate way (it’s also about), what happens when conspiracy destroys relationships between friends and countrymen.”
One scene that will be acted out is a scene between Brutus and Portia.
That scene, Speser said, “speaks in shockingly contemporary tones about our current anxiety about gender and power.”
KNOWLEDGE IS KEY
Port Townsend’s Lisa Wentworth, who said she loves to learn just for the sake of learning, is one of the students participating in the class.
“If we don’t learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it,” she said of the importance of turning back to older texts in modern times.
Turning to classic texts is fundamental to the Clemente Course.
“I highly recommend Clemente,” Wentwort said. “Knowledge is key, and it can open up a whole world for you.”
The community is invited to attend the public readings next week.
“Above all, the play speaks to the dangers of empire and the hazards of a blind patriotism,” said Speser. “It asks the fundamental political question: Is what is good for Rome good for Romans, and vice versa? We see a public trying to exert its political will, while also being manipulated by men in power.”
This, Speser added, is a relevant topic for today.
New York, NY (April 9, 2018)
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) today announced that the Clemente Course in the Humanities is among its 2018 grant recipients, awarded $96,000 to expand its work in the NEH Dialogues on the Experience of War initiative. Projects funded through NEH Dialogues on the Experience of War grants will support humanities-based programs for military veterans and their families.
This is the second consecutive NEH grant Clemente has received to support the Clemente Veterans Initiative (CVI), which was developed in 2014 to provide a meaningful intellectual community to veterans who are struggling to adapt to civilian life. CVI is based on the idea that guided discussion of humanities texts and images can provide veterans with an opportunity to reflect on their military experiences and support their transition to post-military life.
Dialogues will be held in the Spring of 2019 in:
- Providence, RI, at the University of Rhode Island
- Charleston, SC, at Trident Technical College
- Boston, MA, at Codman Square Health Center
Each dialogue will enroll 15-20 students, the majority of whom will be veterans. Dialogues will meet twice a week for 12 weeks, using diverse texts and images to explore themes such as loyalty, moral injury and reconciliation. The course, including books, child care and transportation assistance, will be offered free of charge to participants. Transferable college credit will be available from Bard College.
“For more than 20 years, we have seen how the humanities helps marginalized people place their stories and life experiences into a broader examination of historical and moral questions,” said Lela Hilton, Clemente’s National Program Director. “In Clemente, we do this in small, classroom communities where conversations begin without judgment, and can then move toward understanding how our stories fit into the larger questions. What does it mean to live a good life, to be a citizen, to be human? We are thrilled to share this work with men and women whose lives have been so deeply impacted by serving in the military. It is a true honor.”
Founded in 1996, the Clemente Course in the Humanities is now offered in 30 sites in the US. It provides free, accredited college courses in the humanities to those facing economic hardship and adverse circumstances. Students are guided by highly experienced college faculty who, using the Socratic method, provide a rigorous education in literature, philosophy, American history, art history, and critical thinking and writing. Clemente was awarded the 2014 National Humanities Medal by President Obama.
For more information:
Dialogues on the Experience of War
Kafi Dixon is the founder of Seeds of Change, an organization that allows individuals to come together to purchase food items collectively from local farms and wholesale distributors.
I never went to high school. I never went to high school. I was homeless; it was just too hard. When I was 16, I got pregnant and had my first daughter, and then when I was 19 I had mysecond daughter. Over the years I was ashamed because I didn’t have an education. I started several small businesses; a bedding shop, a farm stand, anything to get away without having to explain that I don’t have a GED. It was like this dirty little secret I was carrying around.
I really wanted to start a farm, but I needed a business plan to do that. I was paralyzed. I was unable to communicate my ideas for this business in writing. I’m more than capable of running a business, but I lacked confidence to write the plan, and I didn’t have networks of people I could turn to that had skills in writing, research or business planning.
That’s when I found Clemente. Clemente took my natural abilities and shined them so that others could see them. The professors and my fellow students also pushed me to recognize my own strengths.
Waldo Aguavivas is a student at Suffolk University.
In my family, other things were always more important than education. My mother had to work three jobs to put food on the table. She couldn’t come home and help me with homework or urge me to go to school. School was uncomfortable for me because I’m a gay Dominican male. I dropped out in 2005 when I was in 11th grade.
When I signed up for Clemente in 2011 I didn’t know what a syllabus was. My writing needed improvement. I struggled but I worked hard to improve, meeting regularly with the writing coach. Clemente made me realize that no question is a dumb question. I saw that others have the same questions I do, so I’m no longer scared to ask. The professors encouraged me to express myself. Through Clemente I learned self - discipline, and gained an understanding of what college is all about.
Amy Howard is a member of the Port Townsend, WA City Council and is the executive director of the Boiler Room, a community art and social service center.
I thought I was going to be working in dead end jobs forever. Clemente showed me that I could think and that my ideas were valid. Now I encourage my volunteers and staff to take the Clemente Course because I know that it can change lives.
I grew up in a town of 500 people then moved to Seattle after high school. I became addicted to methamphetamines. When I decided to leave that scene, two street kids put me on the ferry and sent me to Port Townsend. I was homeless at the time, but I volunteered at the Boiler Room and that gave me a purpose.
I learned about Clemente when the program director gave a presentation at the Boiler Room. At first I was afraid to even try learning because I was scared that my addiction had ruined my brain, but the academic director made it seem so interesting that I decided to try.
Clemente was amazing. The subject matter was fascinating and the teachers were engaging. Most importantly, I was surrounded by other people who also faced challenging circumstances but were equally engaged, and wanted to learn. It was the catalyst that I needed to change my life.
Academic Director, Clemente Course, Port Townsend, WA
There’s a new kid on the Clemente block. In 2017, Dr. Arendt Oak Speser joined the team as the new academic director of Jefferson Clemente. He’s the program’s second director, stepping into the role vacated by Clemente National Program Director Lela Hilton, who founded the Port Townsend, WA, program in 1999.
2006 Graduate, Odyssey Project in Madison, WI
Around the state of Wisconsin, people travel to hear Corey Saffold speak.
American Family Insurance funds a counselor to work with Odyssey Project students
With a free humanities class, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Odyssey Project helps low-income adults overcome obstacles to higher education.
Dr. John Macready LIVE on The Jeff Crilley Show
Watch the recording of the October 4th live interview with Dr. John Macready on The Jeff Crilley Show where he discusses Free Minds Dallas.
2016 Clemente Course Graduate from Kingston, NY
One thing that’s clear about Jewel Walcott is that she never stops learning. A graduate of the course in Kingston, NY—where she was selected commencement speaker the following year—Jewel carries a notebook with her wherever she goes. “I use it to write down random thoughts,” she says, “or I watch a movie and find myself unintentionally writing an essay about it. My Clemente writing instructor gave me permission to express myself on paper.”
Professor in Bridge, Antioch University Los Angeles
Anyone who wonders how the experience of studying the humanities translates to the real world should talk to Rosa Garza-Mourino.
Congratulations to Halifax Humanities
Kings College student and filmmaker, Rachel O’Brien, interviewed and filmed Halifax Humanities students and teachers for this short film.
Graduates: Humanities courses equip students with skills for any profession
by Katie Kowalski as published at PTLeader.com
Studying the humanities instilled in Justin Lake a deep sense of self and place in the world. He came to see himself as someone who could take part in society, make changes and have a voice.
“I felt like a more responsible citizen,” he said.
Lake is a 36-year-old single father and a graduate of the Jefferson Clemente Course, a branch of the Clemente Course in the Humanities that offers college courses to low-income individuals. He’s a naturalist who teaches all over Jefferson County, and he’s now working on getting a teacher’s certificate.
Erik Montoya, age 37, also is a single father who benefited from the free classes in the humanities.
“I know it sounds corny, but it really was a life-changing experience for me,” said Montoya, who is working to get a bachelor’s degree so he can teach history.
Their stories are not uncommon for Clemente students, said Lela Hilton, a national director who founded the Jefferson County branch of Clemente.
“They get that fire from education, and figure out what to do,” she said. “I think that all of our students see that liberal arts and the humanities are incredibly practical.”
Clemente offers its courses free of charge to qualifying individuals, and this Friday, June 23, is hosting NPR’s “Says You!” team to help benefit the program.
MEET JEAN CHENEY
Founder, Venture Course in the Humanities in Utah
Twelve years after founding Venture, a Clemente-inspired course in Utah, Dr. Jean Cheney is more convinced than ever of the value of humanities education.
“It opens people up to new ways of thinking about themselves and their world. And it empowers them to make changes they want to make going forward,” she says. “I am a believer because of what I have witnessed.”
When she joined Utah Humanities in 1997 after a career as a freelance writer and English teacher in high schools and colleges, creating a college humanities class for low-income adults was not on her mind. But after hearing Clemente founder Earl Shorris speak a year later, the wheels got turning. In fact, Jean says she had “a sort of epiphany.”
“Imagining the people in Earl’s Clemente classroom opened my eyes to a reality that should have been obvious: all people deserve a good humanities education, are richer for it. And some people may even be saved by it,” she says. “I don’t apologize for that language. Since being directly involved in this education since 2005, I have seen many, many people turn their lives completely around because of this one course.”
MEET IRENE SALAS
2014 Graduate of Free Minds in Austin, Texas
On the last night of class this year in Free Minds, Irene Salas addressed the students she had mentored since August. “Thank you for your courage,” she told them. “Thank you for your persistence. And most of all, thank you for bringing your voices – your individual voices – to the room. I love to hear all of y’all because it makes the world a lot bigger.”
It was the desire to make her own world bigger that led Irene to Free Minds in the summer of 2013. She was just turning 40 with a husband, two children, and an extended family she helped care for. She had hungered to go to college, but had never even taken a class. In fact, no one in her family ever had. Then her husband Benny received an email about Free Minds at his job in maintenance at the City of Austin. He shared it with Irene.
“I told him it was too good to be true. Who’s going to pay your tuition, pay your books, watch your kids, and feed you? C’mon.”
A Community Health Center may seem like an unlikely place to learn about the arts and humanities, but really, when you think about it, the notion is not so implausible. At Codman Square Health Center, located in the working class neighborhood of Dorchester in Boston, the focus is always on the whole health of a patient.
To that end, if a health center patient requires a prescription for intellectual sustenance, Codman Square helps fill that need with a twice weekly course on humanities and art. The course, called the Clemente Course, is one of 31 given around the country (and one of five in Massachusetts). It offers a cultural dive into the great books and ideas of world history — Socrates, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Plato, Homer and writers such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Students are also exposed to a wide-ranging swath of art history, from Mesopotamia to Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. There are classes in moral philosophy, literature, American history, art history and writing. The students meet for two semesters. To be eligible for admission a student cannot have graduated from college and must live in a household getting by on less than what is considered a living wage in Boston (about $13.42 an hour for one person). The classes are free. Once the course is complete each student receives six credits from Bard College in New York State that can be transferred to another learning institution.
Photograph by Bruce DeBoer for Washington Post
The wind is up in Wilson, N.C. Giant pinwheels and propellers start spinning atop tall and spindly kinetic sculptures called whirligigs, which have been erected on a village green being developed into Whirligig Park. The rotating wheels drive chains, belts and shafts that, in turn, set in motion whimsical characters and shapes. Little bicycle riders and unicyclists pedal and wave, helicopters hover, birds flap their wings, fighter planes change course.
The fantastic contraptions have been fashioned from the discard pile of American civilization. A freshly painted blue fan, 19 feet in diameter, spins majestically thanks to the graceful repurposing of the rear axle of a truck, while another big pinwheel is adorned with 96 shiny metal milkshake cups. Vollis Simpson, the junkyard artist who built these figures, worked from a palette that also included ...
The nationally acclaimed NPR word game show, “Says You!” will present a community show benefiting the Jefferson Clemente Course, a free college humanities course for low-income adults in Port Townsend, WA.