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.