Like the TV hosts of "Fantasy Island," they enable you to briefly re-experience the "shortest, gladdest years of life"
Remember them? Those wondrous years? You lived in a dorm, next door to a dining hall. Your days stretched on without limit, it seemed, and there was time for everything: discussions lasting hour after hour, a movie at night, the stillness of library and lab, your mind pulsing with new ideas and challenging thoughts.
"Bright college years"--through a wise use of vacation time, you can touch them again, feel the glow, recharge the spirit. At scattered colleges and universities, a number of short-term summer programs enable adults of all ages to briefly re-experience "the shortest, gladdest years of life."
For a weekend or longer in summer, when the campus blooms, colleges open their residences, dining halls, and classrooms to every sort of student from around the nation, without conducting tests or issuing grades, and at wonderfully low costs. Few other short vacations offer so much pleasure, and yet such mental growth.
And how do these programs differ from the "learning vacations"--an exotic cruise, an archeological dig--that we, as alumni, are so often offered in the mails? First, because they are offered to alumni and non-alumni alike. Second, because they are operated by the university itself, often on a nonprofit basis, and not by a commercial tour operator or professor-turned-entrepreneur. Third, because many of them take place on campus. Fourth, because, unlike other classier, costlier seminars conducted on campus, these place you not in nearby hotels but in simple college dorms, from which you take your meals in adjacent student cafeterias, exactly as you did at the ages of 18, 19, 20, and 21. And last, because, unlike the somewhat similar Elderhostel programs, they are available to youngsters in their 30s, 40s, and 50s as well.
Great books vacations, one week or longer
Perched on a mountainside overlooking a stunning view of Santa Fe, New Mexico--all adobe and earth colors--St. John's College is, together with its sister school in Annapolis, Maryland, a proud and defiant guardian of the Western cultural tradition. Its undergraduate curriculum is largely based on the required study of 100-some-odd acknowledged classics over a four-year span, chronologically, beginning with Homer's "Iliad" at the dawn of written history, and continuing just barely to the 20th century through readings of Heidegger, Einstein and Freud in the senior year. On the way, students learn Greek and Euclidean geometry, attend solemn lectures in philosophy and aesthetics, and argue their conclusions in small, weekly "seminars," each led by two of the college's famed "tutors"--who perform a role similar to that of the dons of Oxford and Cambridge.
It is these awesome seminars, two hours apiece, six days a week, and each attended by no more than 17 persons assisted by two "tutors," that St. John's has now been re-creating for adult vacationers over the past several summers. Each one-week summer seminar has dealt with a single, acknowledged masterpiece of thought--a "Great Book" carefully read and exhaustively discussed. And visitors attend (and live at St. John's), as they choose, for either one, two or three weeks, thus reading one, two or three "great books."
Although the books chosen for summer change each year, a recent selection ran as follows: In Week One (July 11 to 16), a six-day seminar either in Freud's "Introductory Lectures," Joseph Conrad and Henry James' "The Soul of Terror," Gregorian chant, or Fyodor Dostoevsky's stories and short novels. In Week Two (July 18 to 23), Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni," Jane Austen's "Persuasion," Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," or Thomas Mann's short stories. In Week Three (July 25 to 30), Benedict Spinoza's "Ethics," Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom," Gustav Mahler's first, fourth, and fifth symphonies, or Maurice Merleau-Ponty's "Phenomenology of Perception."
The price? During the summer of 2005, one-week tuition is $950, and includes registration and books. Attendees may also register for one morning seminar and one afternoon one ($1,800). Two weeks cost $1,800, and the entire three weeks a reasonable $2,600. Festive arrival and farewell receptions are also included in the charge. Room and all board at dorms on campus are $485 per week, or students could splurge and stay at a hotel in town. By the way, the tuition price is cut in half for teachers.
Seminars meet daily for two hours apiece. All other times, participants either read, sun-bathe, hike or relax, or go touring in the environs of Santa Fe and beyond, which are surely among the great attractions of America: Chimayo and Taos, Los Alamos, Bandalier National Monument, Indian reservations, and the in-city art galleries, museum, shops, and historic structures of Santa Fe itself. The weeks of one's stay need not be consecutive or in order; and participants may choose any week or weeks of the three-week schedule.
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