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NB:

It is my current intent to publish this series on Sunday, Wednesday (historical) and Friday (Literary) of each week, for so long as I believe the series has merit. I hope you will share this journey toward understanding with me, and let me know what you think.

Bud Fields
September 24th, 2013

Looking at things through a truly Progressive lens can, for even the most stout-of-heart, be a bit of a daunting task. Watching MSNBC, reading the Kos daily (and faithfully), interjecting the occasional comment, and writing the usually obscure diary had gotten to be a bit underwhelming for one of my particular bent. Rather than become completely disenfranchised from the world in which I live, I began (rather sparingly at first) to peruse the wonderful world of MOOC's (online learning opportunities).

As it turns out, there are some REALLY great opportunities out there in the intertoobz for actively participating in the learning process. As a teacher, I find it part of the requirements of the profession. Great Students --> Great Teachers --> Great Students (ad infinitum). I thought, being the owner of an online educational system, it would be a great opportunity to look at developments, new technologies, and new opportunities.

It was. There are many great advances which deserve reporting. Perhaps, someday I will. However, the course I just completed really has affected me, and for ways that will be known to me until my very last breath. Yes, one of those! I need to write about this experience, and there really is not a place for me to write it that might garner feedback. So, I thought I might at least attempt writing about the course here. I'm quite concerned about doing so, however. Scared, in fact. Which, me being who I am, dictates that I must write about it. Here? Well, that remains to be seen.

The course, offered by Coursera, is considered to be a "legacy" course. This means that it is not taught live by the lecturers, but is shepherded by an Associate of the course. Video course lectures from some time ago are presented to a live student population, with live forums, assignments, etc. for student interaction. Assignments are peer-reviewed only, and a Certificate of Completion is awarded to those with the highest marks.

Not only do I wish to be a student, but a really great student. So, for me, the Certification was a requirement. (Hey, we all have our vanities, ya know!)

This course offering, however, would come to require me to re-evaluate a lot of things, in a lot of different places, about all kinds of different people. It was, you see, a course on "The Holocaust". If you wish, follow me just below the squggledoodlethingey. fold, and I'll tell you (just a little bit more for now) about it.

I would dare say that those who know me best would quickly say that I am not one to shy away from things. As far as education goes, I have long said (and still say) that I can deal with anything I know. It is the unknown which scares me most. I have been a life-long learner. I enjoy the perspective of the "now-known". I relish the discipline of learning. Perhaps the greatest gift my parents gave me as a child was a true love of learning.

I also have a particular love for learning history. I also have a particular love for learning about Literature. (This will come to matter...soon.)

I can honestly state that I have never seen nor seen offered a course on this particular topic. I was honestly stunned when I saw it in the catalog. At that moment, I stopped looking and considered, for several days, whether to investigate. I did. I signed up. Today, I completed the course, and was advised the Certificate would be winging it's way toward my mailbox.

The course is offered by The University of California-Santa Cruz. Our particular course was administered by a Teaching Fellow at that fine establishment: one Shawna Vesco. (I'll be sharing a lot about this incredibly gifted educator in the writings to come!)

The course was lectured by two individuals (not commonly done). One was an Emeritus Professor of History, Dr. Peter Kenez. The other was Dr. Murray Baumgarten, Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature. The two are the co-founders of Stephenson College. Kenez comes to the course as a Hungarian survivor of Auschwitz, and Baumgarten comes as a specialist in Comparative Literature, lecturing on the literature of the Holocaust.

I found this to be too tempting a possibility to avoid. I did, however, give my participation a lot of thought. I am not a Jew. I was not a survivor of The Holocaust. How could I possibly relate, much less find anything of use in such an endeavor? By the end of the first lecture, I was only further away from any usable answers to these, and many other questions. Videos were watched, and others were recommended (Movies, interviews, etc.). I should have gotten something akin to a clue when the first assigned video was the movie "Shoah", a NINE HOUR movie directed by french director Claude Lanzmann. Want bulk? How's THAT for bulk? Books and essays were also assigned, as was a writing assignment. Lesson One, y'all!

Suddenly, I felt like a student again. This time, however, I was a handicapped student with some pretty severe limitations. The ten weeks of learning would be interspersed with three hospital admissions, countless life alterations, bad days, and no small amount of irritations for, and by others who care for me. There is much to be said for adult learning, and more specifically adult online learning. Let me say only that such an endeavor is much, much more difficult online, and most especially for an adult.

Here's the catch.

In that first lecture, Professor Kenez asked us to consider that, while such an event was an historical accuracy, it would be left to us to at least attempt to answer one question, and one question only:

"HOW did this happen?"

In that moment, I knew that I was in this for the long haul. Why?

I will presume you already know the answer to that question, but I will give you mine anyway.

I find myself, daily, asking the same question everywhere I turn; and nowhere moreso than when I look at the political/policy world of my nation, and the world in which I live today.

This is a political blog, defining as its mission "More and Better Democrats!" But what does that mean? What does it mean to me?

I think this course has crystallized my thinking on that somewhat. That's really what I hope to write about. I hope to write about that here. I think it's important. I hope you will think so, too.

I also hope it will go without saying that I would strongly recommend this course to anyone willing to read these words specifically because of the clarity the course has given me regarding MY questions.

I have no idea if such writing is against policy here. I have no idea if writing on such a topic will be uninvited here. I want to write about my reflections having undertaken the single most difficult course of my life here, and why that is true. I wish no ill-will, or unnecessary offense to anyone. The course was superb, and had a very real effect on me, personally. But, that is for me alone. I want to share with you my reflections as a recipient of the information I have been given.

For me, this course was, like it or don't, a very necessary journey for me to experience as I try to parse reality from illusion, truth from fiction. One of the more consistent complaints of GOS is that we do tend to find ourselves "preaching to the choir" here. (PROTIP: Reading through the "hiddens" can be quite informative!)

This course was a watershed moment for me. I hope to tell you why, in diaries to come. Nevertheless, when finding yourself at odds with the realities you face, or misunderstanding about the world you live in, I hope you will find in my writing at least better questions to ask, and perhaps even a new-found determination to act, even right where you live. That would make the process great for me, and life-changing for you.

UPDATE: You can find the second installment of this series here.

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