Posts by Michael Lippman
November 7, 2016
Encouraged by the success of my Sparta course, I began designing a similar course on Athens. My hook was to make the syllabus a virtual blank slate, putting the power in the hands of the demos (in this case, the class). At the start of semester, the syllabus listed one test (the final), which constituted 100% of the grade. Policies and procedures were limited to those the university required, readings were broken down by week; otherwise, students were granted total democratic powers to structure the course. The demos could vote to add more assessments and course policies as well as define the day-to-day classroom experience, but, they would be held accountable for the material on the syllabus regardless of how class was structured.
It was a disaster. Early on, the students decided only half of class time should be spent in lecture; however, because the students never passed legislation about proper classroom behavior despite my suggestions, many were online Read more …
October 31, 2016
"This university does not promote fascism! We support democracy here!" I was in a Dean's office, trying to talk my way out of being fired on the spot. It started innocently enough. After the wild success of the film 300, I had thought that a large (500 student) lecture course on Sparta might be popular and help recruit majors, plus high enrollment keeps administrators off our backs and justifies our existence in the face of potential budget cuts. Still, I wanted to bring in this popular culture element without sacrificing educational quality, as well as try and make the large, lecture course simulate my preferred small, discussion-based ones. To do this, I created an experiential classroom in which course structure and daily interaction paralleled Spartan society. Students thus were to learn via an approximation of the agoge in the hope that the Spartan system might become a little more personal.