Early this week I had a the opportunity to get away for an afternoon, so I drove up to visit with old friends in Ashland (including grad school friends now teaching in the MAHG program) and to do a little work for the Ashbrook Center. I knew things were going to be busy there because the Master’s in American Government and History program is in full operation this week and next. Still, I only had a vague idea of why everyone would be so busy. I guess I underestimated how serious and impressive the program actually is. This is probably because I recall working as an intern at the Ashbrook Center in the summer of 1991 when the first incarnation of this program, the "Constitutional Government in America Institute" for high school teachers was underway. We brought in 30 teachers who spent two weeks in seminars with great professors and a pretty serious reading list. I thought we worked as hard as anyone might during that summer and the one following it and that we had done some real good for the cause of improving the quality of high school history instruction. That program was nice . . . but it’s nothing compared to this.
Back then, our primary goal was to get teachers to look beyond the textbooks and incorporate original documents in their teaching of the Constitution, the convention and the Founding in general.
Today with the MAHG, these teachers (some 400 already) are getting an education that rivals and, frankly--to my mind, at least--it surpasses anything that one might get at most serious graduate schools. This is because in addition to the excellent faculty at Ashland, the MAHG program gets to draw upon some of the best faculty from around the country. These professors are experts in the subjects they teach, and the camaraderie the program inspires is remarkable. Meeting in the summer as they do, they complete a semester’s work in a week’s time. They’re in class virtually all day and engaged in conversation, writing and studying all night. But the most remarkable thing about the program is the students who attend--coming from all over the country. Many have given up summer vacations to be here and most have no regrets about it. Indeed, now that the program is beginning to produce its first graduates, the biggest lament I heard (repeated more than once) was that they didn’t want it to end. Who can blame them? You’d be hard-pressed to buy a vacation this interesting.
Julie, I am sorry I missed you. My last course in the program is next week. I am spending this week studying in preparation. It takes at least a week of hard work reading the material assigned to be able to accomplish the intense week of class properly.
Peter Schramm speaks of scholarship as leisure and gives those school teachers who come on the teaching grant the opportunity to "steal leisure." Those of us in the MAHG program pay for the privilege, but that intense and difficult "leisure" is worth every dime. I know I wind up every week simply drained, exhausted, because I have poured myself out each day of the course. As corollary to that, you might wonder what we retain from the week's inundation. Quite a shocking lot: the intense focus requires excellent instruction and that's what we get. Most instructors, being very good, make any given class session feel quite deceptively leisurely. The courses with exams make you know what you have received when you are struggling to get that mass out neatly and concisely in 90 minutes. I tell you, that is a challenge. We all envy the Teaching America grantees who who stroll away enjoying their stolen leisure.
Truly, I wonder how I will spend summers without these "vacations" of the last four years. I have loved it. The program is a wonder.