Unique college course examines "The Art of Walking"
RELEASED: January 17, 2008
DANVILLE, KY—Undergrad philosophy courses too often feature stuffy discussions, intellectual conceit and perhaps a student or two nodding off in the back of the classroom. But at Centre College, Dr. Ken Keffer, professor of modern languages, takes an approach to philosophy that is anything but business-as-usual.
Keffer explores with his students Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Judgment" in a variety of unusual settings during the College's unique CentreTerm. No nodding off in this class and nothing stiff, either, beyond the muscles of those unaccustomed to three-hour walks.
CentreTerm is a three-week January term in which creative, unusual and unique courses are the rule, not the exception. Professors teach a subject that may be on the periphery of their chosen field and explore new and interesting ways to teach it. They teach—and students take—only one class.
Keffer has been fascinated by Kant's philosophy for years and wanted to share his passion in a way students could genuinely appreciate. His solution? He's built a course that intellectually examines Kant's "Critique of Judgment" in the classroom and then puts the philosophy to the test by spending hours on a walk.
"Our Kantian discussions in the morning sessions are as hard as marble. Sometimes we need something like a chisel and hammer to get through to the ideas," Keffer says. "The afternoon walks flow like water in comparison, loosen tongues in the free play of unsupervised conversation. More interestingly, the adventurous, wild and curious nature of the students comes out, something you see less easily, if at all, in class. You don't have to go far to walk."
In fact, the class never ventures far from campus for a very specific reason. "Like Immanuel Kant, we stay within a 50-mile radius of home, of Danville, preferring a near-campus experience to farther journeys," Keffer says.
As for the settings of their walks, Keffer and his students stroll through nature preserves, battlefields, cemeteries, the nearby Shaker Village, campuses and farms of the Bluegrass.
"It's startling for many students as they begin to understand that these slow, peaceful walks are an integral part of the curriculum," Keffer says. "They stand in the middle of Perryville Battlefield (the scene of Kentucky's bloodiest Civil War battle), surveying the landscape.
"We don't have to come here to get in a funk about the battle and people enslaving each other," Keffer tells his students. "We can come here for the beauty of the land for us to walk on."
Students are given reading assignments, but they're given freelance-walking assignments, as well. It is this approach to otherwise dense material that empowers students to look for beauty and interact in a world that is often moving too fast to observe.
Says Keffer, "The walks are just one anecdote after another—shouting echoes across the Kentucky River, swinging from vines, feeling moss, hugging trees, being made to stop on the trail for no reason, which is the best reason of all."
Now in its fifth iteration, the class has become a signature course for both Keffer and Centre College. It has been featured in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" and picked up by the Kentucky Associated Press. Students are inspired to discover new ways to view their own existence and to see that they're surrounded by natural beauty—when they slow down enough to apprehend it. Keffer hopes his students are inspired to walk even after his class ends and, in association with the College, will issue each one with an official "license to walk" at the conclusion of CentreTerm.
"Kant teaches intelligible and sensual design in inner and outer nature," Keffer says, "His main theme is natural beauty. Our walks take us to that beauty—where we really meet ourselves."
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
For news archives go to http://www.centre.edu/web/news/newsarchive.html.
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