...a Learning from the Past

Aside from the obvious that I love teaching, I love teaching art history the most. When I was in college, Louie Palmer taught a required 10-hour class, 5-hours each semester that all students had to take in either their junior or senior year. There were 3-large lectures and a much smaller subsections each week. I took it in my junior year and enjoyed every moment of it. At the end of the year, Louie asked me to help him teach during my senior year. I taught a half dozen subsections each week, wrote the midterm and final both semesters and graded an undergraduate. I have taught art history at three colleges/universities over the years since leaving Muskingum.

Louie Palmer art history class

This term, I am teaching HUMN-303 for DeVry, which is called Introduction to the Humanities. Last week was the first class. I had them introduce themselves. I then introduced myself, went over the syllabus, discussed the online course shell, and talked about the requirements of this class. That is an old academic dance that I do for each class that I teach.

I then went over another old dance with them. I start out by saying that they will be getting two grades for taking this class. This rattles some of them, and you can clearly see it in their surprised and questioning faces. They are concerned about the letter grade that they will get and are totally oblivious of any other grade.

My next reply is that the grade given to the registrar is not important at all. If they weren't concerned about the two grade comment, this comment does get their complete attention. Then I add that the grade that the world gives them for this class is critical, and that is the grade about which I am concerned. It will affect their success or failure in life. Now, they are listening. I've done that type of dance in every class that I have taught for decades.

In addition, every time that I teach this art history class, I tell my students that this should be the capstone class for all humanities classes. It is the most inclusive look in the history of humankind and pulls together all ideas from art, science, history, critical thinking, and philosophy together into one all-encompassing class.

In our first class, we discussed the development of civilizations and their expression of art starting with the caves in Bilbao, Spain and Lascaux, France. Here is one of my PPP slides of cave drawings:

Cave drawing slide

After dealing with other civilizations like the Mesopotamian, Indus Valley, and Chinese Yellow River, we spent a great deal of time in Egypt. This is one of my slides:

Parallels between culture and artistic expression

To add to the explanation of the Egyptian artistic status quo, I put a note at the bottom of the slide prepping them to be aware of the radical difference between the Egyptians and the Greeks who we will study the following week. There were only two changes in 3-millennia of Egyptian art. The pharaohs started out with a smile on their stylized faces and a handful of years of radical change under Akhenaten. Then to pull their awareness level further into the present, I asked this question, "Which political party in America parallels the Egyptian conservatives, their tradition, and status quo characteristics?"

My question was not meant as praising or dissing either or both parties in America, but it was essential for the class to see that the conservative status quo of Egypt did not provide any change in 3-millennia. More importantly, look at America today. We are debating loads of issues from equality of the sexes and races, healthcare reform, economic reforms, gun control, and acceptance of gays and lesbians.

HUMN 303 provides for DeVry students the opportunity to learn from the past. George Santayana warned us and the rest of humanity, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Giza pyramids

Giza pyramids

The Egyptians lined up the pyramid at Giza with the stars on a north-south axis and built these massive stone monuments. This was a herculean task – something that not many could do today. The Great Pyramid was constructed over 4.5 millennia ago. And then what did the Egyptians do once they mastered Khufu's burial place?

They built more pyramids, which totals today 118. Other than mastering pyramid construction, what has the society done? They were happy with what they accomplished and did not want to push the envelope any further. While we can stand in awe of the pyramids and I have twice in my life, what can we learn from them for our own lives?

Sitting back on our hands happy with the status quo isn't, IMHO, the lesson of that were should learn from the Egyptians. We just finished an election in which a group of conservative males were giving marching orders to America...especially to women. These politically conservative males explained rape to women and how to handle being rape, pregnancy, and life in general. Interestingly, none of them are holding any elected office in America today.

Now, there are some Americans that aren't into change. Here is an Egyptian-American entertaining the masses. He loves the conservative Egyptian past – especially that of the successor of Akhenaten. The Egyptians went back to the past. That pharaoh's name was Tutankhamun.

HUMN 303 will pull together all the various aspects of the liberal arts program. It functions as an umbrella not just to art but of all learning. It includes nearly all parts of an academic pursuit. Above all, it helps students to learn about the past and apply that learning to the present. That is why that I believe that this class should be the capstone of all of DeVry's humanity classes. I want my students to learn from this class not just when the Great Pyramid was built, but how does what they learned in the history of art apply to the present world in which they live. I want my class to remember George Santayana's warning to each of us, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.

Forrest Gump Film Poster

Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Visit the Stupid is As Stupid Does page to read more about this topic.