The resurgence of the Experimental College program from the 1960s offers a variety of student-taught courses this fall to a new generation of SF State students.
The significance of the EXCO 50 years ago had a helping hand in fostering and reinforcing progressive ideas as well as assisting in the instituting of the College of Ethnic Studies.
The EXCO program is a student-led institution pioneered at SF State out of counterculture and activist movements that spread across the country. The courses offered in the 1960s at SF State didn’t reflect the concerns that people of color were wrestling with in their communities — classes that were applicable to their lives. A laboratory for progressive minds to crossbreed and advance ideas, the EXCO offered a broad range of student-taught courses that allowed individuals to expand their horizons.
“Black students who were there before I arrived were instrumental in establishing and popularizing the EXCO program,” said Jimmy Garrett, SF State’s Black Student Union founder.
Originally hired through the EXCO program as a student teacher, Garrett attended SF State with the primary objective of building a black student movement that would address the lack of visibility in black studies in higher education.
“I taught a course in that Spring of ‘66, which was community organizing. The community organizing course was mainly white students, and a couple of white faculty members,” Garrett said. “It was an opportunity to expand your reality and also an opportunity to deepen and ameliorate your reality.”
With the help of students and faculty, the EXCO was reinstated last fall through a pilot program. This semester, students are able to experiment with progressive pedagogy by designing classes of their own.
“I feel like the program is beneficial,” said Jason Reed, who is teaching a course called The Psychology Behind Game of Thrones for the first time. “It allows us to teach other students about topics that we’re interested in. It also helps us with our communication and leadership skills.”
With the EXCO program making a comeback, teacher-students say they’ve seen an increase in visibility among student teachers in a short amount of time.
“When the pilot program was revived last fall in 2017, we had about four student-teachers. Now we have 33 student teachers teaching this semester,” Reed said.
The EXCO revival started with a conversation between political science major Benjamin Feldman hashing his frustrations out to political science lecturer Kathy Emery about SF State not offering courses on Noam Chomsky.
According to KQED News, when Emery asked Feldman, “Why don’t you teach the course?” Feldman then prepared all summer by pouring over Chomsky books. When the fall semester started, Emery recalled Feldman telling her, “If I never get any students to sign up, it’s already worth my while because I’ve already learned so much about Noam Chomsky preparing for this course.”
An adviser in the EXCO program, Emery sees a brighter future for the program its second time around.