Among the 13 courses offered this spring by the Senior College at Belfast is an inside look at television news by a veteran ABC news producer, Peter Imber. He knows TV’s past and present and has some provocative thoughts about its future.
That’s what the Senior College is all about: information, background, analysis and provocation. The school at Belfast, one of 15 in Maine, will hold its classes at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center on Route 3 on six consecutive Thursdays from March 29 through May 3. They are open to people ages 50 and older along with their spouses or partners.
Courses cover a wide variety of subjects including Shakespeare, kitchen gardening, Jungian psychology, politics, foreign policy, birding and more. As the college puts it, students may “enjoy subjects ranging from the intellectually challenging to the purely enjoyable.”
Mr. Imber plans to use as a text a 2011 book, “Losing the News: The Future of the News that Feeds Democracy,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alex Jones, who wrote about the press for the New York Times and now is a lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Mr. Imber plans to start off with a bang: After examining the history and current direction of television news and discussing its most influential players, such as Roone Arledge and Ted Turner, he says, “We’ll also address the upheaval that’s changing the way news is gathered and disseminated today and how having the capability of doing both at the speed of light may actually be impeding the speed of enlightenment.”
In his 26 years as an ABC news producer (aside from seven years living in an Israeli kibbutz), he worked in Los Angeles, far from Mr. Arledge, but close to ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings, who was based there. Mr. Imber’s reflections on the current 24-7 constant flow of news, analysis, speculation, fantasy and humor should help students at the college cope with it all.
The students will have an opportunity to see whether the senior college mainly relies on lectures or whether it has adopted the “peer instruction” or “interactive learning” systems described in the current Harvard Magazine. An article titled “Twilight of the Lecture” tells how a Harvard physics professor discovered that his students learned practically nothing from his lectures about how to solve problems.
He concluded that “Sitting passively and taking notes is just not a way of learning. Yet lectures are 99 percent of how we teach.” He simply asks his students a question and lets them argue it out among themselves to come up with an answer. It sounds like an appeal to the system described by James Surowiecki in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds.”
We will see whether Mr. Imber and the other lecturers agree.
A note on Doonesbury
The Bangor Daily News decided not to publish the Doonesbury comic strip in our print editions (which is the only place we feature it) this week when the strip’s syndication manager alerted us to its potentially offensive subject matter. The strip took on the recent controversy about the flap between the Catholic church and the Obama administration on health insurance and contraception, Sandra Fluke’s testimony before Congress and Rush Limbaugh’s attack on her and related matters.
The BDN has editorialized about those issues, disagreeing with the church and the GOP’s apparent “war on women,” and we concluded that some of the language and imagery in the strip was not appropriate for a family newspaper.
Either decision would have been unacceptable to some readers, but the lack of Doonesbury is not offensive; being exposed to explicit language would have offended some. You may not agree, but we hope you understand our thinking.