The Odyssey Project — A Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities
This is a child development center. I am the
food service aide. I’m keeping my voice low because it’s nap time and the kids are
right over there. I heard about the Odyssey Project through a friend. We’re studying
utopia and dystopia. Sophocles, Plato, Hemingway, random stuff that I just would not have read
otherwise. The novel that we’re discussing this evening is Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never
Let Me Go.” They’re eight years old? They seem older, they seem like teenagers. Excellent
point, they do seem very mature. They plan like an attack pretty much where they all
just kind of walk by her at the same time. They seem to me to be savants. Very gifted
but in need of a lot of help themselves. What the Odyssey Project seeks to do is to give
adults who would otherwise find it difficult to impossible to go to college to get the
kind of humanities course that they would get if they went to the University of Chicago
or Harvard or Yale or Brown. I’m a machinist from Mexico, central part of Mexico.
I’ve been here for 26 years. All my life I’ve been interested in literature. I never got
it out of my head. It’s always been there. My wife knows, my kids know. I’m always
reading something. We started doing the Spanish course in about 2003.
A lot of them speak decent English but they’re not going to have discussions of philosophy in English.
And being able to do it in Spanish just makes possible a whole different level of engagement and discussions. The only criteria are that
you be at least 18 years old and have an income no more than 150% of the federal poverty level.
Some of our students have been to college. A lot of them, maybe half, have started and
not finished. I started out at Chicago State University in 2003. Went for a year and a
half. And then stopped going, started working full time and just like didn’t go back to
school for years. I obtained my GED diploma, went to Triton College in River Grove, Illinois,
and I got an associate’s degree in automated manufacturing. From the beginning we have
insisted and demanded that the Odyssey Project not be viewed as remedial. Our students are
reading the same books that students are reading in the core at the University of Chicago and
the teachers are the same teachers. Our students work. They have multiple jobs. They have families.
And what surprises me is that they decide to come to learn. And I think that that is
you know a gift to any professor. “No one answered and we carried on over the pavilion…”
The students are thinking on a number of levels that are quite extraordinary and it makes
it exciting. I have about 23 more credits before I am allowed to become a teacher in a preschool setting. That’s where I would like to be, in a classroom teaching. That’s
what I like to do. I wrote this poem for my literature teacher in the Odyssey Project. People need the humanities. Whether you’re at the
poverty level or not that’s the case. And what that does is it provides a dimension
of depth I think that allows people to reflect on their own lives in a new way that can be