Course Descriptions: Spring 2023

More information on courses, including schedule and recommended readings,

can be found online as indicated at the end of each description.

Three courses will be presented online. Learn more about equipment you’ll need for online learning in those courses.

Most classes begin the week of March 27, 2023; one 7-week class begins on April 4, and one 4-week course begins on April 27, 2023.

Paul Kluge: History, Myths, and Confusions of the Vietnam Wars

8 Mondays (March 27-May 15), 9:30-11:30, VOC

Enrollment limit: 20

This course explores the history of Vietnam and how that small country found itself a political proxy between world powers in three wars with resulting unintended consequences. Now a viable and independent state, Vietnam’s relative modernization and recent success in the global market has come on the heels of incalculable death and mayhem over decades. U.S. involvement ended with misunderstandings and myths that stilted America’s self-image and blunted American statesmanship worldwide.  Course focus is on the two greater wars of Vietnam since WWII. Dispassionately reviewing available history long removed from the glare of media, politics, and other state and world tensions may provide a degree of closure to certain veterans, veteran families, and American citizens in general.

For further information, click here

Paul Kluge

Paul Kluge: Retired as 15-year human resource specialist at a large processing plant. Experienced as warehouse manager, both union shop and not; merchandise buyer and early years working in retail and sales. Raised on a northwest Wisconsin dairy farm. Briefly attended UW-Stout after four years in U.S. Army Intelligence, involving the Vietnam War. Occasional speaker at Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other special events. Author of Weeds of War: Those Who Bled at Dien Bien Phu.

Peter Bailey: Shining On–Films of Stanley Kubrick

8 Mondays (March 27-May 15), 1:30-3:30, online via Zoom

Enrollment limit: 15

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) is indisputably one of America’s greatest filmmakers and, given the extraordinary lengths to which he went in controlling the creation of his movies, he is probably the ultimate American film auteur. Dr. Strangelove (1961), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971)are Kubrick’s best-known films, but his cinematic work spans from 1953 to 1999, and includes as well of course The Shining (1980). The stunning ambitiousness of his films means that he released few enough that our course can cover the majority of them, one masterwork per week. Our purpose is to attempt to understand cinematic genius as embodied in one obsessively driven filmmaker whose devotion to the technical and visual elements of his craft provoked some critics to maintain that his films  emphasize effect over affect, that they deliberately subjugate character and plot to cinematic form. Another critical objective in the course will be to comprehend how Kubrick made viewers care about his films (if he did) when they predominantly contain no rooters and no one to root for.

For further information, click here

Peter Bailey

Peter Bailey is Piskor professor of English emeritus at St. Lawrence University. His teaching and writing focus on literary and film criticism. He is the author of Reading Stanley Elkin (1985), The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen (2003, 2nd ed. 2016), Rabbit (Un)Redeemed: The Drama of Belief in John Updike’s Fiction (2006), along with edited volumes on Allen, Kubrick, J.D. Salinger, and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.

Gordon Marino: Existentialism

8 Mondays (March 27-May 15), 1:30-3:30, FiftyNorth 103

Enrollment limit: 20

Today, the words “existential threat” are frequently bandied about with the intended reference to something that strikes at the very core of our existence. The existentialists themselves pressed questions that penetrate to the core of what it means to be a human being. Kierkegaard and company were unique in their ability to articulate the obstacles that we are up against in ourselves, e.g., anxiety, depression, and to recognize the contingency and vulnerability of human existence. Philosophy is the love of wisdom as opposed to knowledge. Accordingly, the bull’s eye of our study is to garner wisdom from these Galileos of the inner world and, to deploy a phrase that might seem excessively naïve, “to become better people.” Of course, we will use our texts to try and extract the meaning of what “becoming a better person” might mean. We will also entertain traditional existential issues such as what if anything is the meaning of life?

For further information, click here

Gordon Marino

Gordon Marino retired as professor of philosophy and curator of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College in 2022. He is the author of The Existentialist Survival Guide; Kierkegaard in the Present Age; and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard. His articles have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, American Poetry Review, and many other periodicals.

Barbara Evans: Northfield’s Historic Architecture (taught previously in 2017)

7 Tuesdays (April 4-May 16), 9:30-11:30 first three classes, 9:30-12:00 last four classes, VOC

Enrollment limit: 20

Northfield architecture is historic and significant. After this class, you’ll not just walk past these places, but your increased knowledge will open the door for you to see details and better appreciate the buildings that surround us. By studying significant buildings, we’ll learn about notable commercial and residential architects in Northfield and about how our history is preserved in these places. We will include the architecture of both colleges as well as locally designated structures that are not in the Historic District. We will study styles, construction materials, and architectural terminology. We will tour some sites in person and others we will “tour” from the classroom. Be prepared to stand and to walk for periods of time during on-site tours which will be explained for each site visit. A similar class was offered in 2017. Sections of content may also have been in previous Evans classes.

For further information, click here

Barbara Evans

Barbara Evans is a retired high school speech and English teacher. After teaching in Rochester for 34 years, she relocated to Northfield, where her interest in architecture blossomed. She is currently chair of the Heritage Preservation Commission, has given walking and bus tours of the city, and is deep into the process of restoring her Arts and Crafts home.

Mary Savina: Water 101: What is it? Where is it? Who uses it? Who needs it? 8 Tuesdays (March 28 – May 16), 1:30-3:30, VOC

Enrollment limit: 20

Many people think (consciously) about water only when there’s a problem—an increase in water rates, a disruption to supply, a change in quality of drinking water. Yet of the things we (and our surroundings) need to exist, let alone thrive, water is perhaps the most important. This course will take a “case study” approach to issues of water distribution, water use, and water quality. We’ll explore water issues in Northfield and SE Minnesota as a group. You can also expect to learn about water quality issues in Massachusetts, Michigan and Mississippi; about the Jordan, Ogallala and Central Valley aquifers; and water in many other places. Each student will have a chance to prepare a case study of their own, to be discussed during the final weeks of the course.

For further information, click here

Mary Savina

Mary Savina is the Charles L. Denison professor of geology emerita at Carleton, where she earned an undergraduate degree with majors in history and geology. Her Ph.D. is from UC Berkeley (in geology). Her research and teaching focus on the interaction of humans with the physical landscape, including water in its various manifestations. Mary has accompanied Carleton students and/or alums to Greece, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Alaska and the deserts of the American Southwest. She was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2022.

Margie O’Loughlin: The Craft of Legacy Writing

8 Wednesdays (March 29-May 17), 9:30-11:30, VOC

Enrollment limit: 15

Legacy writing is a way to distill your life experiences, values, and beliefs. The final product can be a gift to family and friends; legacy letters are sometimes used to accompany a legal will and/or an advanced health care directive. No matter how they are distributed, legacy letters are a way to link generations by putting valuable life lessons down on paper. In this class, students will learn about the genre and write (at least) eight legacy letters of their own.

For further information, click here

Margie O’Loughlin

Margie O’Loughlin has worked for several Minneapolis and St. Paul community newspapers for just short of a decade as a freelance writer and photographer. In addition, she has offered creative writing classes to groups of older adults across the Twin Cities. Subjects have included memoir writing, writing from prompts, writing through the decades, and writing through the lens of gratitude.

Matt Rohn: U.S. Environmental History

(Updated Spring 2022 Course)

8 Wednesdays (March 29-May 17), 1:30-3:30, online via Zoom

Enrollment limit: 15

This course explores from a historical perspective the complex, fluid, and sometimes conflicting relationship between the natural environment and various peoples who have lived on the lands now known as the United States. We will inquire into how beliefs, policies, and actions have shaped the environment in significant ways for better and for worse. The course loosely follows a chronological thread in exploring key contributors that help explain how the U.S. came to be “nature’s nation” while also one of the worst-polluting nations for a time and the most serious, per capita contributor to the existential threat climate change poses. Our text is Carolyn Merchant, American Environmental History, An Introduction, 2007 (see for prices: as low as $9.98 used; $27.06 e-text; $31.45 new; $38 list price at Content). Each session will involve guided discussions on the assigned readings usually centered on the short chapters in Part I of the text plus a special online reading or work of art.

For further information, click here

Matt Rohn

Matt Rohn retired several years ago as a professor at St. Olaf College, where he taught environmental humanities, art history, American studies, and race and ethnic studies, among other matters. He earned a B.A in art history at George Washington University and an M.A. and a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. He is currently an environmental activist involved in helping Northfield realize its Climate Action Plan and pressing the state and Xcel Energy to meet their stated goals and set new ones called for by climate scientists.

Rod Christensen: Using Evidence for Informed Health Care and Policy

8 Thursdays (March 30 – May 18), 9:30-11:30, VOC

Enrollment limit: 20

Health care decisions often have important clinical and financial implications both for the individual and society, but it is often difficult for people to understand the options, or even to know what questions to ask. This course will describe a framework that participants can use to “follow the science.” Common, timely examples of decisions we face will be used to describe the kinds of data available, their strengths and weaknesses, and the questions and information that are often omitted from discussions. The overriding concept will be to try to understand the value of the options we choose, as value is defined by different stakeholders.

For further information, click here

Rod Christensen

Rod Christensen, M.D., is a retired family physician who practiced in Northfield for 25 years before finishing his career in leadership positions with Allina Health. In those roles, his responsibilities included improving clinical quality and patient experience, and improving shared decision making while addressing cost and value.

Paul Zorn: Calculus Without (much) Calculation

4 Thursdays (March 30 – April 20), 1:30-3:30, VOC

Enrollment limit: 15

Calculus, among humanity’s best ideas ever, is too often loathed and feared as the mathematics course that drives students away, never to return. This regrettable reputation derives mainly from the intricate algebraic and symbolic gymnastics that too often dominate calculus courses in schools and colleges. Yet the subject itself turns on just a few main questions related to things that change. How fast? How far? When will a changing thing be largest, or smallest? How can we measure “curved” things, like circles and spheres?

The methods of calculus, going back to Archimedes, Fermat, Descartes, Leibniz, and Newton, address such questions by applying a few ingenious ideas: breaking large and intractable things into many small and tractable ones, answering simpler questions, and then reassembling them to solve harder problems. Infinite processes play a role, but they are largely “tamed” by the idea of limits, fully formed only in the 19th century. While the course will focus mainly on general ideas, calculations—built right into the word “calculus”—can’t vanish entirely. But we’ll keep them under control.

For further information, click here

Paul Zorn

Paul Zorn is professor emeritus of mathematics at St. Olaf College. For 38 years he taught St. Olaf courses, mainly in mathematics but also in science writing and in St. Olaf’s Great Conversation program, a five-semester general education sequence spanning over 4,000 years of human culture. In the 2000s he served both as president and as a journal editor for the Mathematical Association of America. He taught a CVEC course on infinity in Fall 2022.

Raymond De Vries: It’s Not Easy—Making Moral Choices in Today’s World 4 Thursdays (April 27 – May 18), 1:30-3:30, VOC

Enrollment limit: 20

How do you know what is (morally) right? In today’s world we are faced with an array of moral quandaries that demand our attention, that demand we take sides: abortion, climate change, racism, euthanasia, immigration, war, gun control, and proper reading material for our children, to name just a few. Although we often have a sense of what is proper, we rarely reflect on how we came to that conclusion, how we, in fact, make moral judgments.

This course will begin by reflecting on the way we make ethical decisions, calling on the work of moral philosophers, moral psychologists, evolutionary biologists, and bioethicists. We will also explore the social and cultural factors that influence how we define and resolve moral problems. We will then use what we have learned to examine moral issues relevant to our lives: 1) the use and abuse of our data—collected by healthcare institutions, businesses, and, yes, by ourselves (do you have a mobile phone and/or a smart watch?); and 2) the “ethics of aging”—our responsibility to the next generation, the allocation of limited health care resources, and the rights and wrongs of assisted dying.

For further information, click here

Raymond De Vries

Raymond De Vries is professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. From 2006 to 2015 he was a member of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, with appointments in the Departments of Learning Health Sciences, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Sociology. Before moving to Michigan he was a member of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at St. Olaf College.

Tom Drucker: Israel and Palestine—the Intricate History of the Middle East

8 Fridays (March 31 – May 19), 9:30-11:30, Kildahl Park Pointe

Enrollment limit: 20

At the time of the Six-Day War in 1967, there was a tendency on the part of the Jewish population worldwide to heave a sigh of relief when the war ended, not just with the continued existence of the State of Israel, but with its expansion to borders that might be seen as more defensible than those that emerged from the War of Independence in 1948. Not much thought was given to the issue of how to deal with the land and the people that had fallen into Israeli control. While some accommodation could be reached with neighbors, the issue of the Palestinian population became a matter for acrimonious argument within Israel and the rest of the world. It has sometimes been argued that the conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs and Christians has its roots from millennia ago and is bound to be intractable. In this course we’ll look at what went on in more peaceful times without looking at the subject through rose-colored glasses and try to see ways to return to a climate of mutual tolerance, if not cordial friendship.

For further information, click here

Tom Drucker

Tom Drucker retired in 2021 after decades of teaching mathematics, computer science, philosophy and the history of science, most recently at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater. In between teaching at Dickinson College and Whitewater, he spent eight years as executive director of a Jewish congregation in Pennsylvania. For the last 25 years he has worked with groups in California, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin on behalf of dialogue between Jews and Muslims in this country.

Perry Mason: The Concept of Religion—A Philosophical Analysis


Enrollment limit: 15

Religion is widely believed to be a ubiquitous feature of human life, present everywhere and at all times. It clearly has taken multiple forms—private and public, personal and institutional and even political, rigidly organized and chaotically varied. Its social forms are such things as religions, sects, denominations, and cults, members of which sometimes do but often do not get along with or tolerate forms of religion other than their own.

The aim of this course is to step back from this complex array of differences and similarities and in Socratic fashion ask the basic question, “What is religion?” What is religion as such, regardless of the vast range of variations in its many instances in the human world? Indeed, is there, in fact, any one such thing as religion? To help us answer this basic question, we will use the thoughts of two important 20th century thinkers who have left us two useful books on the matter: historian of religion Wilfrid Cantwell Smith, and theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich. Because both happen to be Protestant Christian, one of our aims must be to try to determine whether their answers to this basic philosophical question are excessively or parochially Protestant Christian.

For further information, click here

Perry Mason
Perry Mason

Perry Mason taught philosophy at Carleton for 36 years. Having retired in 2004, he has taught 10 courses in CVEC and served for four years as its curriculum director.

Steve Strand and Dan Sullivan: A Brief History of Equality

8 Fridays (March 31 – May 19), 1:30-3:30, Kildahl Park Pointe

Enrollment limit: 20

In his historic and monumental 2014 treatise on the origins and perpetuation of income and wealth inequality in nation states from the late 18th century to the present—Capital in the Twenty-First Century—Thomas Piketty, a French economic historian, brought new data and new understandings to one of the most important issues in the world today. In a new 2022 book—A Brief History of Equality—he points out that, despite the continuation of great inequality there has actually been some movement toward greater equality—a de-concentration of power and property—that needs understanding. In the new book he also digs deeper into the role slavery and colonialism played in enabling global economic inequality. Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, and Derrick Bell’s And We Are Not Saved provide examples and analyses of how inequality and racism get “baked in” to a social structure, culture and the law, making change very difficult. This course—a collaboration between an economist and a sociologist—seeks to bring this set of works forward in hopes of providing students a deeper understanding of these issues.

For further information, click here

Steve Strand

Steve Strand is Raymond Plank professor emeritus of incentive economics at Carleton. He has devoted extensive time since retirement to making Piketty’s work understandable to a lay audience.

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan, a sociologist, is president emeritus of St. Lawrence University and CVEC curriculum director.