The Experimental College is being restarted within the political science department this fall semester with four courses being taught by students.
This pilot revival program was inspired by the college’s first run at SF State back in 1968, where students designed courses that they wanted to be taught and formed an untraditional way of teaching.
Following that same model, lecturer Kathy Emery – who has been instrumental in bringing the program back to life – worked with four students as they prepared to teach a class that they felt wasn’t being represented.
“The four courses that are being offered this semester come out of the individual student’s passion [and] concerns, and it’s not being taught to their satisfact[ion] in the regular curriculum,” she said.
The four student teachers, Alisar Mustafa, Ben Feldman, Cesar Plascencia and Ray Larios, all worked with Emery on their curriculum over the summer after submitting a proposal.
The four courses offered are “Limiting Democracy- a Study of Noam Chomsky,” “Syrian Refugees– Analysis of Global Issues,” “Social Movements and Digital Technology,” and “Cybersecurity, World Affairs and Social Implications in the Digital World.”
Mustafa, who is of Syrian descent, decided to teach a course about the Syrian refugee crisis and aims to provide knowledge to help with the issues.
“It just came naturally to me,” said the senior political science major. “I think the first step in helping Syrian refugees is to educate people about them and the issues. That’s what I mainly want to do”
Mustafa, who teaches the political science 699.17 course, believes that this unique way of learning from students will help students connect to the topic. “I hope that this interpersonal learning makes students make more personal connection with the subject.”
She continued, “There were so many times in my educational life, where I’ll go to a class and the teacher is just speaking at me. I would think ‘this is interesting,’ but it just lacked that bridge between me and the subject.”
Senior and political science major, Sajni Patel, who is enrolled in Mustafa’s course, agreed and believed this way of teaching was different from a regular classroom setting with a professor.
“When it’s a professor, it’s always that power struggle where you do what they say, but here, Alisar wants to include us. We are all learning from each other.”
Patel, who took previous courses about the Experimental College taught by Emery, enrolled to support the program and hopes students taking the course honor the goal of the college.
“I can see how some students would take advantage of the fact that a student is teaching, but I think if someone really respects what the experimental college is, then I think it’s beneficial for everyone,” she said.
The student teachers are offered units for teaching the course, and the students taking the course are also offered elective units for the first time in the program.
“Being able to offer students units is super crucial to the program success. People want to do this, but they need to graduate,” said student teacher, Ben Feldman.
Feldman, a senior from San Diego, teaches the political Science 699.15 course, which studies American linguist, philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky through readings and interviews. In Feldman’s first class meeting, the room was filled with more than enough students.
“I was shocked. There were about 45 students and there weren’t enough seats. It’s extremely encouraging. People want to learn about Chomsky, but, more fundamentally, they want to support the idea of students teaching students.”
The other courses are being taught by Cesar Plascencia and Ray Larios.
Plascenia’s course, political Science 699.18, examines how digital technologies have influenced social movement development, while Larios’s course, political Science 699.19, discusses Cybersecurity, World Affairs and Social Implications in the Digital World.
Emery hopes that more students get involved in the program to help it reach higher heights.
She said, “I hope that we can expand this. The hope is that every semester it increases in the number of students teaching courses that they are passionate about.”