Class Explores Why 'Wisdom Really Matters'
An English professor at Alma College uses literature, spirituality and service learning to teach students about wisdom and why it matters.
William Palmer created Wisdom: Cool Mind Warm Heart, a first-year seminar, in 2010 after finding inspiration at a men’s rites of passage retreat in New Mexico, he says. The Dana Professor of English has successfully taught the course four times now.
“The retreat at Ghost Ranch discussed how young men need mentors while on the male journey,” he says. “I thought about how all people need mentors, though. This class is a way for me to provide that kind of environment. Not many classes in the country explore wisdom with undergraduate students.”
In addition to learning from their elders by interviewing them at Masonic Pathways, a long-term care facility, students teach reading assignments in pairs. Palmer says he is amazed at how talented students are at teaching.
“Students come up with techniques and ideas that I wouldn’t have, which makes the class both surprising and engaging,” he says. “They grow to see themselves as teachers as well as learners.”
While Palmer admits that he cannot directly help his students be wise, he can indirectly plant wisdom seeds that other classes at Alma will water and nourish. Life experiences help these seeds grow, he says.
“If the course succeeds, my students will realize wisdom does matter,” he says. “They also will realize that college is more than receiving information. College is about what you’re going to do with that information and how you’re going to apply it to your life and to society.”
A student interviews a Masonic Pathways resident.
Palmer notes that wisdom is not typically something many people ponder. Through the class, his students learn to focus on the present, to pay close attention to nature and the beauty it provides, and to quiet their minds through meditation, he says.
“What you learn in class has to be routed to real life, so students often share meaningful personal stories about themselves,” he says. “Wisdom breaks barriers and creates tolerance. Wise people aren’t afraid to be open.”
To put a stricter definition on wisdom, Palmer describes it as a deep knowing that involves spirituality, reason and emotion. Wisdom also involves recognizing and dealing with pain, he says.
“Wisdom is being aware of joy, pain and change and embracing all of it,” he says. “I’m 60 now. I couldn’t have taught this course at 25 or 30. When you grow older, you grow more grateful for wisdom, and you know why it matters.”
Posted: Wed, October 10th, 2012 at 1:14PM