Thursday, November 5, 2020


With over a half-century of hindsight, I look back on courses I wish I had taken in college. These selections, of course, do not mean that I wish I had not taken other courses to make room in my schedule. What you read below is just a self-indulgent exercise of imagination.


Geology – Kim and I spend a lot time on Michigan beaches, looking for Petoskey stones and seeing all kinds of other marvelous rocks, each of them with a geological story that I can’t read. I had a roommate who was a geology major, and he said he loved it because he got to play outside, roaming nearby hills and mountains while I was in my room reading War and Peace. He went on to make money locating oil, while I taught high school English. I probably had a better life, come to think of it, but I do wish I knew more about the rocks we bring home.


Spanish – OK, I did take Spanish at Amherst. One semester was enough for me to pass my language requirement, which I doubt they have now. I quit my study of Spanish just as I was beginning to understand what I was reading or hearing without translating it into English. I believe that we understand through the lens of language, and I wish I knew what it felt like to experience a different quality of life through a Spanish-speaking lens. (I do remember learning, years ago, that the Burmese language rarely uses pronouns, perhaps a reflection of the prevalence of low-ego Buddhism.) I did use my Spanish once, in Italy, where my Spanish was so bad they thought it was bad Italian and understood what I was saying.


Astronomy – My memory is not clear here, but I think the college offered an astronomy course not open to physics majors. (A glance at my old college catalog mentions no such course, but sometimes courses would pop up with willing professors. I recall taking an unlisted “reading course” on James Joyce – there were two of us in the class, and we met at the professor’s house.) My college classmate Phil, a physics major, recalls no such course. Maybe I just overheard people talking about how nice it would be to have such a course, and if the college didn’t offer one, they should have – so it’s on my list. I don’t actually do much stargazing and don’t own a telescope, but I’m intrigued by some of the weird physics that I hear is going on out there. Probably no weirder than what goes on in my head . . ..


Light – Sometime after I graduated, the college dropped most of the requirements in the “New Curriculum” that I experienced, and they started offering team-taught interdisciplinary courses, I think to Freshmen (still men, then), perhaps Sophomores. I remember reading in the Alumni News about a course on Light, taught by professors of English, physics, and, I believe, philosophy. Or maybe no such course ever existed, and I’m indulging in creative memory. Doesn’t matter –  I wish I’d taken the course whether it existed or not. Physics for poets? I’m especially interested in light as I live in northern Michigan with winter approaching.


Ethics – I’m fascinated by the subject. I taught two-week mini-courses to my Humanities students, and I enjoyed the Socratic give-and-take, leading to many unanswered questions. My goal was to make my students as uncertain as I was and still am. A college course on Ethics might have solidified my uncertainty.


The Psychology of Women – No comment, except that Amherst was all male, and my first teaching job was at an all-male prep school. Here I am at age 77, still pretty much in the dark – or so I am told. If I’d taken such a course, my grade would be “Incomplete.”


It is, of course, possible for me to take all of these courses now, with much of education being “remote,” Zoom and YouTube all too common, and books still widely available. But taking those courses, or even just one of them, sounds like a lot of work. No, I prefer to imagine the self-improvement such courses would stimulate.


Anything you wish you had studied? Are you, unlike me, going to do anything about that wish?


  1. Astrophysics. I just love the sound of the word. But that would require mathematics, and I dislike the sound of that word.

  2. I wished that I had studied medicine. Instead, I got a graduate degree in Health. I ended up working with 3rd & 4th year University of Michigan med students after I retired from teaching in Ann Arbor schools. No regrets!