HSP Creates Great Books Program for Arizona Teachers

January 31st, 2024

Classroom teachers across the state can enroll in free Humanities Seminars Program courses through a scholarship program that seeks to expand opportunities for educators.  

Since its founding in 1984, the Humanities Seminars Program has offered non-for-credit classes to community members, taught by top University of Arizona professors. The students have been primarily retirees, but technological upgrades brought about during the pandemic have allowed anybody to take any class, from anywhere and at any time.  

Last fall, HSP launched the pilot of Great Books Series for Arizona Educators, with support from the College of Humanities Fearless Inquiries Project. The Great Books program is designed to allow any K-12 teacher in Arizona to enroll in HSP courses for free, said HSP Program Director Micah Lunsford.  

“Teachers are deserving of so much more support than they get and we wanted to be able to offer these resources to teachers with no barriers,” Lunsford said. “The quality of the professors and the flexibility to engage with courses asynchronously are a great combination. We’ve already had feedback that HSP courses can help them both in and out of the classroom and we hope many more join us in the future.”  

In the pilot semester, about 10 teachers signed up for a class, with several continuing to take classes since. The available funding will make about 30 spots available each semester as the program continues.  

Wayne Catan, an English teacher at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, said he first heard about the program in a notice from the school’s assistant principal. Several courses caught his attention, but he enrolled in the fall 2022 course “Two Modern Classics: Madame Bovary and The Portrait of a Lady,” with Peter Medine.  

“My belief is you can never really know a text too well,” he said. “I thought I would do the first class and be done with it, but I had such a great experience with Professor Medine that I went and took his next one too, ‘Shakespeare’s First Folio.’”    

Since, he’s kept busy with whichever literature class appeals the most: “Dostoevsky’s Demons: Satire and Prophecy” in the summer, and “Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago and the Politics of Russian Literary Dissent” in the fall, and “The Fiction of Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald” currently. He even asked his brother to read Dost along with him and his wife plans to read The Great Gatsby along with him this spring.  

“Because of my schedule, I usually have to watch it online. But the professors have such passion for the subject matter that I’m engrossed,” he said. “I look at it as a godsend.”  

It’s also been important for Catan to demonstrate to his classes that everyone can be an eager student.  

“It’s really good for high school students to see their teacher doing what they’re doing, to see that I’m also engaged in learning, all the time,” he said. “I probably have seven notebooks full from all of my HSP classes now. I’ll look back and what it teaches me is different ways to interact with texts and any new way you can interact with a text, I’ll relay to my students.”  

Kharla Lambino, who teaches second grade at Heartland Ranch Elementary School in Coolidge, said any literature course appeals to her, so she enrolled in the fall course “Literary Masterpieces from the Middle Ages,” with Albrecht Classen.    

“The class has been really good and the professor is great at what he does. I learned a lot about the Middle Ages, and not just the literature,” she said. “We teach folktales and mythology with second grade and I am learning some strategies and some interesting child-friendly facts that I can share with my kids.”