EXCO: Broadening Macalester’s educational opportunities

By Miriam Larson

The Experimental College (EXCO) was conceived as a project to increase Macalester’s educational opportunities and community involvement beyond the current accredited education program; however, it was never dependent on credit to do the work it has set out to do. I would like to expand on the last two paragraphs of Amy Ledig’s article on EXCO [“EXCO loses bid for course credit,” Nov. 10, 2006] in order to reframe EXCO as a newly emerging project with endless possibilities for input and growth, not as a defeated student organization.

The Experimental College concept was born in the 1960s and 70s and was created by students agitating for more self-determination in their education. While Macalester was not among the schools to start an Experimental College, it has in the past encouraged experimental education projects such as J-Term Interim courses and the Inter-College. We had the privilege recently to speak with Tom Copeland, a Macalester alum who participated in the Inter-College, a year-long experimental education project in which twenty five students lived off campus and were not required to attend classes but instead pursued study of their own design. Copeland still speaks enthusiastically about his youthful rebellion in favor of self-determined learning and against curricular requirements, calling the Inter-College year one of the most influential years of his young adulthood.
While the Experimental College hopes to provide Macalester students the opportunity to explore self-determined learning, we are particularly focused on the opportunities to build community through education. By offering classes that community members, students, faculty, or staff can teach and which are free and open to the community, the Experimental College aims to broaden dialogue that happens within the classroom. Current EXCO teacher and Macalester student Mark Stonehill describes how “the range of age within class has jumped from 5 to 55 years, faculty may be assigned homework, janitors may collaborate with vice presidents or provosts on group projects, next-door neighbors may meet on Macalester’s campus and have a discussion that just wouldn’t occur in their backyards.”

Additionally, by giving students, community members, staff and faculty the opportunity to teach areas of their expertise that do not fit into the traditional academic formula, we hope to bring light to sidelined or marginalized narratives, ideas, traditions, pedagogies and skills.
If you are interested in becoming a teacher, please check out our application available online at www.excotc.org. Ray Tricomo, a community member who is currently teaching a course on The Great Law of Peace and the Iroquois Confederation, calls teaching an EXCO class, “the most beautiful experience I’ve had at Macalester.”

As the Experimental College extends its roots, the organizers acknowledge that it will face the critique of the higher education community that puts a high price on educational excellence. We, too, are invested in maintaining a high standard of teaching and learning within the Experimental College and for this reason are expanding our application process. We welcome the input of students, faculty, staff and community members and particularly encourage you to get involved in our Advisory Council. Contact [email protected] for more information.

However, our priorities lie first and foremost with building community by providing free and accessible courses. While we do not have the capacity to become a job-training center, we do feel that Macalester has an obligation to use its resources to expand the opportunities of the Twin Cities communities. That means that, in addition to the many Macalester students who go on to committed lives of public service, the current students, faculty, staff and administration must make a concerted effort to reach out to the community and take advantage of our urban environment.

In conclusion, organizers of the Experimental College do hope to challenge the Macalester Community to broaden its definition of education, however, acquiring credit for EXCO courses is not the only way to sustain this effort. While we are disappointed that the Education Policy and Governance Committee did not invite us to the table when they rejected our proposal, we look forward to working with them in the future. We hope EPAG and the rest of the Macalester and surrounding community will contribute to an exciting effort to develop EXCO into a sustainable complement to Macalester’s education and a critical community-building element for the Macalester and surrounding community. If you are interested in finding out more about current and future EXCO planning, please accept our invitation to the EXCO potluck which will be held on Sunday, December 3rd at noon in the Weyerhauser Board Room.