Preliminary information about plans for a program sought to be offered summers at a suburban high school in the Birmingham, Alabama area. For additional information, or to indicate a desire to participate --as a student, teacher, or financial sponsor for students-- please e-mail Richard Garlikov.  For potential students, curiosity, creativity, and a desire to learn or to perform are the most important factors, not grades, test scores, or previous achievement. For potential teachers, a teaching credential is not necessary; subject matter knowledge and enthusiasm for sharing that knowledge, with the ability to communicate with students in an interesting way are what is important.

Summer Renaissance Program
(Arts, Humanities, Math, Science, Recreation)

Proposal and Rationale

This is a proposal for a Renaissance, or intellectually and artistically broad, summer program for students to be around creative and curious peers and inspiring knowledgeable adults/faculty who would nurture and teach them in more relaxed, personal, flexible, and open/honest sorts of ways than the usual high school or college course does or permits -- a program where instructional approaches might be used that give capable teachers the freedom to teach in ways they think most effective and stimulating for students. The subject matter in courses will be very different too; some sample potential course offerings are described below. The program will not be "grade" and "credit" oriented, but will be one that is intellectually and artistically challenging and rigorous for the sake of the excitement of subject and material itself. There will be opportunities and encouragement for students to combine arts (performance and appreciation), physical activity (whether athletic or just exercise), and a variety of high level multi-subject intellectual pursuits guided by people who enjoy their fields and who would like to introduce young people to them in ways they would likely find interesting and exciting too -- all without the pressure and formality of grades, which just usually inspire memorization and parroting of what students think is expected.

        This plan grew from a search for the kind of "pre-college" program that seems not to exist in the U.S., since most involve students' just working in very narrow, specialized fields -- in music, athletics, OR academics -- often just taking very specialized, and compressed, day-long courses or regular college summer courses. Many existing academically oriented programs are for high school seniors. This will be a broader, more generally intellectually and artistically stimulating kind of program for students, of whatever age, that would benefit from it.

        There should also be opportunities where students work among themselves primarily to develop something they wish to, for example, a string quartet may want to try to work out a performance of a piece on their own, with an adult availablefor help only if and when the students wish help. Some students may even want to work on performing and premiering a composition written by a fellow student. Some musicians might want to play music for a ballet that the dance students will perform, or an opera or musical. Some physics students may have an idea for something they would like to work out primarily by themselves, with a mentor available at certain points.

        The focus of the program is to allow opportunities for those intellectual and artistic activities which, in part, require or benefit from, face-to-face "collegiality" or instruction -- the sort of collegiality and instruction not easily obtained in other places or by other forms of communication such as books, educational tv, distance learning, or the Internet. This is not to say that every experience or every moment of the program needs to be devoted to collegial activities. Much study, reflective thinking, and artistic practice requires individual, often solitary, effort even if it is for a group project or ensemble performance that also requires face-to-face collaboration.

        Proximity is obviously important for working out collaborative artistic performances, such as ballet, drama, and opera, but it is also important for intellectual or academic instruction that (1) thrives on simultaneous participation by greater numbers of people, (2) requires or benefits from physical demonstration rather than just words or static pictures, and (3) where constant and immediate feedback between mentor and student is necessary to reach a threshold of skill or understanding before the student can progress well on his/her own in the area.

        There should be opportunities for physical exercise, whether tennis, soccer, softball, volleyball, pick-up basketball, touch football, or simply walking, and there should be organized social opportunities (e.g., places to hang out and dance or just talk, perhaps over food, etc.).

        Mentors should be people who love to teach things they know; and what they teach need not be limited to some specialized subject matter expertise. For example, a violinist may also know "country fiddle" playing and some students might want to learn that "on the side". A biochemist might be an accomplished amateur magician, and some students may want to learn how to do a few magic tricks. An anthropologist or a literature teacher may know how to throw a boomerang and be able to teach that to students who find that interesting. The point is to bring together capable people who have an affinity for learning and growing and who have ideas and skills and intellectual and artistic loves to share with each other.

        There will not be any grades, credit, or credentialing involved in this because all of that puts unnecessary stress on students, causes unfriendly competition, diverts student attention from the subject matter to various sorts of "hidden curricula" and selfish, short-sighted ends, and creates unnecessary burdens for teachers. Informal, verbal --basically qualitative-- methods of evaluation of teaching should suffice to guaranty quality of instruction.

Samples of Proposed Desirable Offerings
(to be taught at varying, appropriate levels of knowledge and skill)

Music ensembles (e.g., string quartets, brass ensembles, various duet combinations, etc.)

Full Orchestra

Musical analysis, structure, (non-technical) theory -- i.e., what often falls under the title of music "appreciation", so that musicians and non-musicians alike can get a "feel" for how music "works" or tends to be structured. (Many musicians often have specific playing knowledge of music and yet still lack an understanding of overall structures or of how music relates to our psychological experiences of it, etc.)


(Concert) Opera

Drama (perhaps even a video-taped tv production, if facilities permit).

Science -- particularly taught in a more conceptual, theoretical, and/or historically developed manner; not "school science":

Physics -- for example a course devoted to the understanding of the nature of the concept of "forces" (explaining, for example, "why" a ball thrown straight up in the air in a moving vehicle does not end up pressed back to the back of the vehicle, but instead comes down into the hand that tossed it, even though that hand may have moved fifty or a hundred feet forward with the car while the ball was in the air, and, more importantly, describing what kind of conceptual notions are required in order to make that explanation "work"); a course that explains the nature of the concepts, paradoxes, and theoretical difficulties with classical physics, quantum mechanics, and/or relativity; or a course in the nature of our understanding of space and time.

Chemistry -- for example a course devoted to chemical discoveries in a given area, and the theories constructed to explain them.

Astronomy -- for example a course devoted to (particularly interesting or significant) historical discoveries and the theories constructed to explain them, including as yet unexplained "facts" (i.e., a course in how astronomers know the things they do about the universe).

Geology -- for example a course devoted to explaining what the "evidence" is about geological data and the nature of the theories constructed to explain various kinds of data.

Genetics -- for example a course dealing with how mutations can be advantageous, given that if a biological system is already working it would seem that any random change would be like trying (as someone said) to improve the working of a fine clock by shooting a bullet into its innards at a randomly chosen place. Of particular interest might be proposed explanations how organisms could have improved when such improvement took more than one concurrent mutation in order for any of them to be effective.

Social Sciences: any field, but again, different approaches than a college course would use, and perhaps more theoretical or conceptual in nature.

Mathematics (different from "school" math), e.g., the nature of concepts in "elementary" arithmetic, such as place-value and why they work the way they do; why multiplication works in such a way that five bags each with three items gives the same total number of items as three bags each with five items -- how can you "interchange" the number of bags and the number of items and it still ALWAYS be the same answer?; can you multiply large numbers in Roman Numerals?; why are fractions the same as division (i.e., why does dividing 5 by 8 give you an answer that is equivalent to 5/8), etc. The general issue, of which these are examples, is how something that is purely mental -- math -- can work out to apply to the physical world, since most things that are purely mental or imaginary do not apply to nature. What is it about the nature of math or mathematical concepts and manipulations that allow them actually to work when applied to reality?

Literature from a variety of approaches, but none that would duplicate a school class

Philosophy and Reasoning, for example a course in the nature of being rational, and how it relates to science, aesthetics, ethics, and everyday thinking or "common sense".

Sports or Exercise (including just a place to walk):

Opportunities to practice or play tennis (with or without instruction).

Opportunities to play (gymnasium or playground or "pick-up") basketball, possibly with the opportunity for some instruction in fundamentals and strategies.

Outdoor volleyball net, etc.


Reset June 21, 2000