As I write this column I am listening for the sound of tires crunching on driveway gravel. Somewhere not far away a FEDEX delivery truck is heading my way with a three-pound parcel I await with great anticipation. Inside is yet another “adventure” in learning and discovery to enrich my world; this time a brand new release from Great Courses featuring a 24-lecture view of the world-wide dimensions of a 14th century event titled “The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague” presented by Professor Dorsey Armstrong of Perdue University. It will be a sight and sound learning experience with CD recordings and a written overview and complete printed course transcript.
Nearly two decades ago, a friend in New England who shared my longtime interest in exercising the mind and was herself a prominent neurosurgeon and expert on the human brain told me of her discovery of The Teaching Company, a Virginia-based company producing an extensive line of advanced learning programs featuring the world’s best teaching scholars. I was immediately intrigued, and with a course on “The Story of Human Language” became an enthusiastic student, for once studying subjects I chose for myself based on reasons other than mere scholarship alone.
The advantage of being able to listen and learn while involved in extensive road travel, followed up by reading and reviewing at a more convenient time at home was an immediate payoff. Since the 1960s, I had been a follower of the “SQ3R” (study – question - read- recite and review) approach to advanced learning and now found it to be a perfect companion for my recorded courses. Just as important I found myself repeating a study course at later dates in order to refresh details or merely to revisit a subject of renewed interest or relevance.
Over the years I have enrolled in, completed and profited from dozens of these “triple threat” learning vehicles, and now as an octogenarian find that I am as addicted to the acquisition of knowledge and expanded levels of understanding as I was half-a-lifetime ago. Thanks to the broad library of subjects available in this format, I frequently sign up for a particular course for no better reason than curiosity and the “fun” of it; a recent edition of “Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals” featuring Professor Elizabeth Murray is an example. It has been years since I was myself a Criminal Investigator for the U.S. Air Force and I have no current professional need for such study, but my life-long interest in the changing field of forensics made of this excellent overview a sheer delight.
If I have a favorite course lecturer it is Gary W. Gallagher of the University of Virginia whose “The American Civil War” and “Robert E. Lee and His High Command” are landmark accomplishments in any format. When I had some email questions, his interest in the form of a personal response was enthusiastic and immediate. Another favorite is Professor Thomas Childers from the University of Pennsylvania with his outstanding World War II: A Military and Social History and whose 1995 book Wings of Morning was already on my book shelf.
As I increasingly observe - and deplore - the apparent paucity of a basic understanding and appreciation of our own founding history on the part of “millennial” citizens, I wish that the Great Courses’ program A History of Freedom by Professor J. Rufus Fears of The University of Oklahoma could be a required course for all high school students. (Another might be Founding a ‘Republic of Virtue’ taught by Oxford Professor Daniel N. Robinson.)
In addition to my writing, I have – for almost twenty years – been hosting a weekly radio talk-show whose roving subject matter knows few bounds, and whose audience represents a similarly disparate cross section of citizens. If there is one unheralded resource which has fed my appetite for fresh material, it is The Great Courses; formerly The Teaching Company, in Chantilly, Virginia.
Wait: the doorbell just rang! FEDEX is here and I have to go.