Students propose alternative curriculum

By Stefan Deeran

A group of students is attempting to launch an Experimental College (EXCO) program at Macalester for the 2006-07 academic year, where any student, faculty or community member could teach a course and students may even earn college credit.Macalester students have adopted the EXCO name and the model from Oberlin College, where students have operated a program since 1968.

Unpaid instructors who have some area of expertise would be the main teachers of EXCO courses. Potential courses include non-academic skills like mask making, cooking or improvisational comedy, organizer Miriam Larson ƒ?TM08 said. As proposed, an EXCO board of students and faculty would eventually accredit the courses.

ƒ?oeThe idea is to form a democratic, community-centered education,ƒ?? Larson said. ƒ?oeItƒ?TMs about life-long learning. We all play roles as teachers and learners.ƒ??

Student organizers presented their proposal to professors at a Feb. 8 faculty meeting. Larson described the faculty as ƒ?oepretty silentƒ?? during the presentation.

History professor Peter Rachleff, who chairs the faculty meetings, said he could not determine faculty support because professors do not have enough information yet, particularly concerning how students and faculty would be expected to collaborate.

ƒ?oeCould something happen by next year?ƒ?? Rachleff asked. ƒ?oeProbably yes. But [the proposal] has to be more specific.ƒ??

In addition to the basic EXCO elements, the proposal includes an independent study option, sponsored by faculty, but managed by student and community-member collectives. The proposal also asks professors to open classes to community members who would not earn credit.

Several organizers contacted registrar Jayne Niemi, who suggested piloting the project for next semester, Larson said. If a test run in Fall 2006 is successful, EXCO organizers anticipate courses might be available for credit in future semesters.

A group of about thirty students and two community members met Sunday to discuss plans for implementation.

Macalester students can peruse possible EXCO courses at a planned ƒ?oeskill-shareƒ?? festival later this semester. The event will likely include free food and live music, said Larson and David Boehnke ƒ?TM07, another EXCO organizer, said.

ƒ?oeEXCO is an idea right now and we canƒ?TMt say what it will become but it hopes to be a forum to discuss the current state and attack on education by an increasingly business-orientated capitalist culture and government,ƒ?? Larson said.

Issues like need-blind admissions and a conference attended by students last October 2005, ƒ?oeDemocratizing Higher Education,ƒ?? caused some students to perceive a problem in how education is made accessible to Macalester students and the community, Boehnke said.

An EXCO program at Macalester would likely draw support and ideas from Oberlin. Larson has spoken with people involved with Oberlinƒ?TMs EXCO program informally, and learned that Oberlin helped Grinnell College implement a similar curriculum six years ago.

According to literature on Oberlinƒ?TMs program, Oberlin typically offers between 50 and 120 EXCO courses each semester. Recent courses, taken for up to two credits, have included Belly Dancing, Issues in Womenƒ?TMs Health, Competitive Badminton, Prison Activism and Korean. Students may earn up to five credits towards graduation and students also earn credit for teaching.

Organizers believe a collective approach to the project will help make the program a success.

ƒ?oeIt has been an inspiring project personally,ƒ?? Larson said.

Organizers will hold another planning meeting on Thursday, March 2 at 6 p.m.