The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Draw from the well of knowledge

What would you want to learn before you “kicked the bucket”? From Confucianism to Linguistics to Psychotherapy, Bucket Courses integrate the college and the greater community by offering community members opportunities to take courses taught by lecturers from Grinnell College and the community. Since September 2009, Bucket Courses have been available for fall, spring and summer sessions and are sponsored by the Grinnell Community Education Council (CEC). Courses are held in the Community Room of the Drake Community Library every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

This fall, the Bucket Courses kicked off on September 11. According to Joanne Bunge, a member of the Bucket Course Planning Committee, this session of the CEC has decided to provide a different format. Entitled the Bucket Course “Variety pack”, the fall session will involve a six-week period of various topics presented each week by a different lecturer instead of the standard system of one lecturer presenting a four-week course on a single subject.

Lt. Jim Ahrens ’62, a retired military officer in the U.S. army, shares his passion for military history as both a lecturer and a committee member for Bucket Courses. After the “Variety Pack”, which is set to end on October 23, Ahrens is set to teach a four-week course focusing on the Vietnam War. His course will run until the end of the fall session in late November.

“It’s very satisfying work. Educating people who are over-the-hill physically, or in their retirement years,” Ahrens said. “A lot of people want to keep their brains active and learn new things.”

Ahrens, a resident of the Mayflower Community, affirms that although the Bucket Courses are open to anyone in the community, the majority of registrants comprise of residents of Mayflower and other local retirees. The lectures are also available for viewing on Channel 12 through public access television.

The Bucket Course Planning Committee is responsible for planning the courses featured in each session of Bucket Courses. According to Ahrens, the teaching is heavily influenced by the College in that current and retired professors as well as community members, such as local physician Dr. J.R. Paulsen, propose courses they would be willing to teach. The committee then collegially evaluates which material “will bring a variety of topics to the table and more importantly, will interest people.”

Lecturers for Bucket Courses are non-remunerated, meaning they voluntarily commit to sharing their passion for knowledge with the community. Professor Michael Guenther of Grinnell, History Department, taught a course on U.S. Environmental History in the spring of 2011, and is set to teach a History of Science course this spring. Both Ahrens and Guenther believe that history courses seem to garner high interest among the elder community members who register for Bucket Courses.

“There’s a sense in which history is seen as accessible, personalized and engaging,” Guenther explained.

Guenther interestingly taught the same Environmental History course at Grinnell, for the Bucket Courses program and the Grinnell in Prison program, all simultaneously. Teaching the same course in three very different settings allowed Guenther to realize how different backgrounds can affect the way people draw on individual experiences and their interaction with academic material.

“We talk a lot at Grinnell about diversity in the classroom and that it’s important to have different experiences and insights and different questions,” Guenther explained. “We learn more if a bunch of different people participate in the conversation and I think the Bucket Courses are an extension of that.”

Rather than placing an emphasis on discussion, Bucket Courses are highly lecture-based. However, through his interactions with community members, Guenther believes that Bucket Courses represent a deep and mutual affiliation between the college and the town.

“Both the town and college get a lot from each other. It’s important for [the College] not to live in an ivory tower, but to go out and be as useful as we can,” Guenther said.

The diverse and unique subjects within Bucket Courses just go to show that there is a world of knowledge surrounding us. And before we” kick the bucket”, whenever that may be, why not take the time to explore it?

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