Yes it's true I have studied modern poetry before — in the normal small-class setting. Cappuccinos and berets optional. At Bennington, at Boston University and Breadloaf. But I've never taken a course taught by a UPenn professor, with a class size of 28,000. And counting.
The class I am about to take, it starts on Monday, is one that is offered by Coursera. And what is Coursera? Coursera is the new world baby. It's an online college (kind of) offering free classes to anyone anywhere. (coursera.org) Classes taught at Stanford, Duke, and obviously UPenn. Top of the line. FOR FREE. That's right. The best things in life are free. If only Abbie Hoffman were still alive to see this. He'd be grinning ear to bearded ear. So would Walt Whitman for that matter. I guess you can tell I'm excited.
I'm not the only one champing at the bit for Coursera’s Modern Poetry class (or ModPo as dubbed by its professor, Al Filreis). Turns out there are over 3000 of us tweeting on Twitter, and getting responses from our teacher! And he's stoked too. A life of the mind has never seemed so connected to the world. I get to read Emily Dickinson and yes Walt Whitman and even John Cage and I get to write essays and takes quizzes and if it all goes well I will get a certificate of completion. It's too soon to say but I'm saying it anyway. This may be the solution for anyone who wants a do-over on choosing a major, or has finally found the time to dig into something they love but could never fit into a “required” courseload, or it may be the solution for those of us who never wanted college to end. Maybe the answer is never finish. Never stop learning. Turn your life into a growing patchwork quilt of classes taken, certificates earned. And who knows? Maybe Coursera will find a way to give out degrees. Crazy? So is talking to your iPhone and getting a response. In a well modulated female voice.
Online learning for free could be the ultimate example of the butterfly effect. Someone in Mumbai studies behavioral economics online, for free, starts a business, and who knows what happens next. Stay tuned. When we learn anything — poetry, math, music — it changes the way we see ourselves, it changes the way we see the world, and it changes the way others see us. Coursera could be the start of a new world order where education is not the possession of a privileged few, even though today that 'few' is numbered in the billions. What I'm talking about is more than literacy. What I'm talking about is higher education, that could actually finally be for all of us, from Kenosha to Kabul. Girls and boys, women and men, learning. Priceless. Revolutionary.