Black Mountain College Project
Class on the Porch of Lee
Hall. Photo courtesy of North Carolina State Archives,
Black Mountain College Papers 27.90.
Section 2: Teachers and Teaching: Methods of Teaching
INTRODUCTION TO THE SUNLEY PROJECT AND DOCUMENTS
Harold Raymond: Innovative teaching and creative classes were not confined to the fine arts. In my work with Richard Carpenter (Ecology), Roland Boyden (History), Bob Babcock (Government), I encountered some very innovative teaching and classroom experimentation. Purely traditional teachers like Walter Barnes may have been qualified, but their survival in the BMC atmosphere was almost impossible.
Will Hamlin: Much teaching at Black Mountain was, as at Goddard, traditionally "progressive" – discussion led by faculty of materials read and/or written outside of class: individual studies or tutorials: supervised and critiqued "doing" in the arts and sciences including individual studio or laboratory work.
Mary Brett Daniels: I was, however, clear that the educational philosophy of BMC with its freedom and intensely individual motivation and criteria, would be validated in the broader academic world by those of us who "proved" its worth by achievement in graduate schools.
Alexander Eliot: Rice wanted to create an academic democracy ... It would consist of a hundred and some students and faculty having freedom both to teach and to learn as they themselves desired—never by rote or on demand.
Lucian Marquis: Here is part of the BMC catalogue for 1942-43—Study and Curriculum: "Black Mountain does not have the deep and sharp division that have existed between work and play, between curricular and extracurricular activities." In most American universities and colleges there is a sharp division.
Mary Brett Daniels: It is hard to express the excitement and intensity of learning at BMC. Never really enough time to read everything everyone else was excited about reading.... Members of the faculty took each other's courses and were working on projects together.
Robert Sunley: The BMC response to the complex nature of the entering students was different than the usual liberal arts colleges. That overall response is typified by the leading classes—those given by Rice and Albers: Rice's Plato class, Albers' drawing and Werklehre classes. The former fostered critical and participatory thinking in a group, challenging given ideas, examining the complexities of general concepts. The latter emphasized direct student experience—in drawing, in seeing, in "really seeing," and in Werklehre expanding the realm of attention to the world around, to its colors, shapes, textures and other qualities – all one's own direct experience, not just reading and studying about such matters. A student could experience drawing without the pressure of competition, or measuring up to some standard – which elsewhere usually keeps students from trying out things – the fear of inadequacy, the fear of bad grades, the ignominy of not doing something seemingly up to par even in the class. And learning to think, simple as that might sound, took much personal involvement and risk, the development of greater respect for one's own efforts and less anxiety over unfavorable reactions from others.... Learning processes of thinking, not only the content, is not easily acquired in the usual college. The founder of one later experimental college (Bensalem) after years of traditional education and college teaching experience, wrote that "One day I made a discovery: I did not know how to think!"
Sue Spayth Riley: With the exception of Rice's philosophy class and his writing seminars, I came in contact with very little innovative teaching in the straight liberal arts courses.
Harold Raymond: ... rigorous pressure in the whole atmosphere of the college was to do "serious, meaningful" work of some sort. Courses which did not produce this tended to create student dissatisfaction with themselves, classmates, or most often, the teachers.
Claude Stoller: ... rubbing elbows with writers, philosophers, historians, social scientists, and listening to their impassioned discussions during meals ... broadened my reading interests.
Harold Raymond: Nearly all (classes) involved extensive reading, papers, and class discussions. Lectures were extremely rare....
Gisela Kronenberg Herwitz: During my years at BMC, classes were generally quite small and permitted a great deal of discussion. Considerable work—studying and analysis of materials and written presentations—was involved.