Do you know that part in Skyfall where James Bond is chasing the evil mercenary Patrice on motorcycle, implausibly over the tile rooftops of Istanbul’s Kapalı Çarşı, or Grand Bazaar? Well, you would hopefully not see Marlboro students behaving so culturally insensitive-like, but you just might find them squeezing lemons and apricots at that very same Grand Bazaar this week. That’s because a group of students is in Turkey over spring break, part of their class with ceramics professor Martina Lantin and art history professor Felicity Ratté called, verbosely, “Art on the Walls: Ceramic Tiles in Seljuk and Ottoman Architecture, Meaning and Design.”
I know, I know, you’re thinking spring break is when college students typically to go to Fort Lauderdale and get savage tans and dance to pulsating music with total strangers and think about anything but Seljuk and Ottoman architecture. Well, Turkey is just one of several decidedly un-Florida destinations where Marlboro students are spending this spring break. Another trip, for the class called “Cuba: 1898 to the Present” with anthropology professor Carol Hendrickson and American studies professor Kate Ratcliff, went to Cuba (duh) to explore everyday Cuban life, politics and national identity, and also to research why their national dish, called ropa vieja, translates as “old clothes.”
Another group of students and alumni went out to Yellowstone National Park to track bison and elk and wolves and grizzlies and cook their dinners on geothermal geysers. Yet another band of students drove a van as far south as they needed to in order to find snow-free and dry rocks to climb on, which, given the way this spring has gone, was probably nearly as far south as Fort Lauderdale. I mean, you can’t keep these Marlboro students still for a minute if there is a Seljuk palace to explore or some basalt slabs to clamber up. We look forward to seeing them all again next week, with or without savage tans.
Shhhh, listen. Do you hear that humming sound over the hiss of melting snow and the whispery breeze in the trees? That’s the jangle of neurons firing, of synaptic clefts bursting with neurotransmitters, of axons and dendrites alive with activity. I’m saying that’s the sound of thinking getting done. I know, I know, on the outside Marlboro College looks all bucolic and picturesque and quiet, like a postcard from a theme park called Vermonty-land. But on the inside it is a seething cauldron of critical and creative thinking. I mean, in addition to the small and engaging classes, with names like Digitally Mediated Performance and Debating the American Dream, there is the constant buzz of two- and three-person intellectual revolutions known as tutorials.
People new to Marlboro will be excused for thinking that tutorials have something to do with “tutoring,” but they could not be more pleasantly mistaken. Tutorials are basically classes with just one or two students, on a subject of particular interest to the students. Some times it is a specific subject in which the professor has limited knowledge, and they are reading and learning right alongside students based on a syllabus and reading list designed by students. It sounds like a lot of work for everybody, and it totally is, but tutorials are the personal spark that keeps everyone fired up and on their own burning path of self-designed study known as the Plan of Concentration.
A case in point: I stumbled on a trio of two students and a professor down at the skating rink, doing random circles and shaky spins on the ice. Innocent enough, right? Turns out that they were also passionately discussing the philosophy and methodology of history in enough excruciating detail to make my head do random circles and shaky spins. Like, they were talking about how Leo Tolstoy’s approach puts historians in the unique position to basically ignore the philosophical dilemma of free will, how Leopold von Ranke criticized Hegel’s conception of man’s relationship to god, and a hundred other tantalizing specifics that I have as much hope of understanding as, say, nuclear physics. Since tutorials typically happen somewhere more discrete, I felt very fortunate to catch a glimpse of this this lively discussion, which apparently takes place on the skating rink each week. You can catch the flavor of it too in the following video.