Black Mountain College Project
   

STUDENT EXPERIENCE IN EXPERIMENTAL EDUCATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
(1933-43)

Section 2: Teachers and Teaching: Formal Aspects of the Curriculum

       

INTRODUCTION TO THE SUNLEY PROJECT AND DOCUMENTS

Description of the Study by Robert Sunley
*   Letter to the Students
*   Guidelines
*   Brief Biographies of
    Contributors

*   Brief Biographies of
    Faculty Mentioned in
    the Memoirs
*

SECTION 1. ROLE OF THE ARTS

    Statement by Robert
    Sunley


The artistic process as
    a major goal.


*   Individual, active
    anticipation was
    fostered but not
    required.

*   Focus on really “seeing”
    and “thinking” for
    oneself, not on the
    production of art.


Self-direction, self-
    discipline, initiative,
    development of the
    whole person....

The arts were diffused
    throughout the
    education ....    

 

Formal Aspects of the Curriculum 

Each year a catalog was issued, setting out the philosophy of the college, listing proposed courses, faculty, governing groups (Board of Fellows, Student Officers), and general information for applicants and incoming new students.

The curriculum consisted of a considerable variety of courses offered by the faculty, varying somewhat year to year depending on the given teachers at the time and on interests. At the beginning of some years, teachers and students wrote down courses they would like, and a composite curriculum thus developed. Some subjects or levels of a subject were not given every year, which proved a drawback for some students.

While there were no required courses, new students were strongly encouraged to take certain introductory courses: for example, Josef Albers's drawing class, John Rice's Plato. Some students, however, did not take these courses. Students also were allowed and even encouraged to audit any course for the first two or three weeks of a semester, to gain an impression both of the subject and the teacher and his or her methods of teaching. Courses, beyond this point of auditing, could be dropped at any time by simply notifying the teacher and the office. Often this was done in consultation with the student's advisor.

Classes were held in a variety of settings. Some were in regular classrooms, others in the teacher's study, others in the "lobby" (Rice's Plato) or on the porch and outdoors (often, Albers's drawing class). The music appreciation class was held in a room in a separate building that housed the dining room and stage as well. Students and faculty dressed informally, unusual in those times. Most faculty were addressed by their first names, excepting Rice, Albers, Erwin Straus and one or two others. Some faculty were known by their nicknames, used perhaps by the faculty directly and by students indirectly in talk among themselves—e.g., Josef Albers was known as "Yuppi."

The general course of study began with a new student entering in the Junior Division, and after a year or two or more of fairly broad liberal arts courses, the student would take two days of examinations to enter the Senior Division. The student was then considered ready to specialize, or have a major subject, and to work toward graduation. There was no requirement, however, as to number of courses, hours, credits, etc. for either entrance into the Senior Division or for graduation. In addition to the examinations for entrance to the Senior Division, faculty also gave careful thought to whether the student was ready emotionally as well as intellectually. Some students were not passed the first time they took the exams, on this basis. Since the exams were made up anew each time, students could take them until they passed. A review of students' attendance, however, indicates that many left before taking such exams, or before graduating, for various reasons. Incoming students who were transferring from other colleges might be ready to take the Senior Division exams at the end of one year.

Other features of the curriculum were the small class sizes, seldom going beyond fifteen, and usually around five or fewer. No grades were given out, and progress was determined by the teacher. Generally, students did not "fail" a course, but might not have benefited enough to enable them to qualify for the Senior Division exams. Grades were, however, given and kept confidential from the student—this became evident later on as former students had their records submitted for work at other colleges and learned what grades had been given. While this structure of no grades created a freer atmosphere at BMC and avoided the many stresses involved in the grading system, it may have been a drawback for those who transferred or went to graduate schools (it appears that some did well; others were handicapped).

Robert Sunley

SECTION 2. TEACHERS AND TEACHING

Introduction

Formal Aspects of the
Curriculum 

   Class Size 
   Grades    
   Advisors 
   Junior Division  
   Senior Division  
   Graduation

Methods of Teaching
   General

   John Andrew Rice 
   Josef Albers 
   Erwin Straus 
   Robert Wunsch 
   Others


Personalities of Faculty
  
John Rice  
   Josef Albers 
   Robert
Wunsch 
   Heinrich
Jalowetz  
   Others 

Outside the Classroom
   In General  
   The Work Program 
   Visitors -
   Trips 
   Drama 
   Interlude  
   Lectures, Concerts 
   Informal Interchange