Changing Paradigms of Education

By: Bill Whaley
18 June, 2012

Last week UNM-Taos and the extended university system’s Upper Division, Bachelor’s and Graduate Division, which includes campuses across the state, were notified that main campus’s English Department would no longer participate in the program’s live courses. Here’s a copy of the email notice from the department chair. (John is John Cornish who is director of curriculum, as I understand it for extended university.)

“Gail T Houston” 6/13/2012 3:57 PM >>>
Hi, John: Based on much deliberation and increasingly limited resources, as the Chair of the English Department, I would like to cancel all future live courses at the Centers. Thanks for your consideration in this matter, best, gail”

Ironically, the extended university pays for itself because a minimum number of students is required before the course is offered. The revenue pays for the instructor. Regardless, the English Department, in my experience, has been supportive in the past. As we all know statewide budgets are being reduced. The new policy does not affect lower division, the 100 and 200 level courses at the Taos Branch. My course, according to UNM coordinator Mary Lutz will still be offered as Comparative Literature. Here’s a note from Mary.

“ENGL 330 is a crosslisted course in Comparative Literature, COMP 330. Bill’s course will still run in the Fall as COMP 330 T:Art of Self Consciousness, provided it meets the minimum enrollment of 13 students. Meets on the same day and time, Mondays, 5:00-7:45pm. If you would like me to register you for the COMP 330 section, please reply to this email,

Basically, the “Art of Self-Consciousness,” is a fancy name for a history of the personal essay. We’ll use Phillip Lopate’s fine book, “The Art of the Personal Essay,” which covers the tradition from the ancients until the present. The essay is one of the few art forms that maintains a consistent and creative approach to literature and consciousness with few changes. I believe in the hoary notion that you do not know what you really think and feel until you write it down and reflect, whether on ideas or experience. The essays are short and pithy, beautiful, funny, and sublime. Furthermore, the form is available to the average reader or writer unlike the demands made by advanced notions about poetry and prose fiction, which frequently require more background and dedication.

Despite the English Department’s restrictions, I will continue to offer courses as I have in the past because my background is in English and American Literature and literature in translation. Last semester my students and I enjoyed a course on Plato, Montaigne, and Emerson—the very stuff of comparative literature. It was a thrill. The essay course mentioned above includes examples from the tradition of Chinese, Japanese, Latin, Greek, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and the 20th Century. You’d be amazed at how little the human condition changes.

So much for the commercial. More below.

The 21st Century in Taos

As my readers know, students aspiring to a Bachelor of University Studies degree, can take courses at the UNM Upper Division on Ledoux St. Those who seek a degree must pay about $800 for a three-hour credit course (more or less). Senior Citizens, 65 or over, pay only $15. Due to the minimum numbers required for a class, about 13, few if any courses in the upper division humanities sector would survive without the participation of lifelong learners.

But what about the rest of the community between ages 25 and 64?

Many, who have degrees, say, in their twenties to early sixties, or those without who also have aspirations to continue learning, cannot afford the price of formal education. Given their mission to provide core academic courses to lower division, 100 and 200 level students, the UNM-Taos branch can’t be all things to all people.

So I want to open a discussion here about focusing on an independent program, a new–old paradigm for those who want to, say, improve their writing or thinking skills, take courses in literature and philosophy or film and novel but don’t find the relevant course available. Surely, we could find retired or otherwise qualified individuals to teach math, science, art, and other courses.

Recently, I paid $32 to spend three two-hour sessions with UNM instructor Jeremy McDonnell studying and discussing Agnes Martin at the Harwood. He’s going to offer a similar seminar later this summer on contemporary art in galleries. Jeremy has a gift for synthesizing material and avoiding the jargon aka “art talk.”

The main thing an instructor looks for is commitment and enthusiasm from the students. And students can learn enduring skills or practical philosophical analysis from an instructor who is enthusiastic about the work and makes it intelligible.  Education, properly understood, adds to the quality of life. But the commodification of education—the budget and bureaucratic-driven paradigm—reduces students to indentured servants, impoverishes families, or excludes aspiring learners.

In the past I have been approached by any number of community members who would like to take courses to improve their creative or expository writing skills, learn about literature or philosophy, etc. In lieu of UNM’s more restrictive financial and bureaucratic policies, I’d like to spark a conversation about emulating what the Harwood is doing as well as other independent tutors. Since writing courses are frequently in demand, I am thinking about offering a creative fiction-non fiction course in the fall or possibly a film and philosophy course, depending on interest. For those who are curious, I could offer a unique course on local politics–for aspiring activists, say.

If we were to agree on say a ten-week course beginning in mid September and ending in early December for an initial fee of $50, I think we could have a good time and learn something.  My house has plenty of space and parking, is centrally located, and I have a well-organized library. (Thanks to online book sellers, my Plato, Montaigne, Emerson course cost in the neighborhood of $25 for text books.)

If you’re interested, Email me at Thanks for reading. Bill