Swarthmore’s Honors Program, which, in my opinion, is the crown jewel of the Swat experience, tends to be designed around a series of seminars. Generally, an Honors student takes three seminars in her major and one in her minor. As an English major and political science minor, that means I’ve taken or am currently enrolled in seminars focused on American Lit, Victorian Lit, Shakespeare, and Democratic Theory.
What really defines these seminars, other than their lengthy syllabi, small size, intense focus, and general class camaraderie is the sheer amount of time devoted to each meeting. On top of the very demanding studying/reading required outside of class, each session itself lasts at least 4 hours. Often they last longer, as some conversations (eg. Why exactly is Hamlet so timelessly relevant? Or How can we overcome America’s procedural liberalism without becoming coercive?) can carry on and on and on. This semester, for instance, my Democratic Theory class means on Wednesdays from 1pm to approximately 5pm.
Now, I’ve loved the subject matter of all of my seminars, but four hours is a long time or anyone to sit through an academic discussion. To keep myself on task, I often devise various psychological rewards, like fetching chai tea at the halfway point or switching from blue to black ink.
But something strange has happened during my past few poli sci classes. The first time I’ve glanced down at my watch, it’s been about time to go. In the midst of an in-depth discussion on deliberative democracy, over four hours disappeared without my realizing. I was disappointed when my professor announced it was time to bring our seminar to a close. Where did the time go? Into some academic Shargri-La, I suppose.
Ultimately, it’s moments like this that are motivating me to apply to grad school for political theory. I want to spend more time not thinking about the time. I seem to have passed the Don’t-Look-At-Your-Watch Test.