WI Online Course Grist for a Lifelong Learning Course

The Destiny of America 2018
Faculty: Christopher Buck

Urgency seemed to be at the top of the list when a fairly new Bahá’í enrolled in not one but three Wilmette online courses.

Victoria Welborn had only been a Bahá’í for a year when she enrolled in The Destiny of America 2018. She was already enrolled in Building a World Federation: The Key to Resolving Our Global Crises 2018 and would soon enroll in Science, Religion, and the Bahá’í Faith 2018. The urgency, it seems, came from her spending ten months of her first Bahá’í year away from home and away from a Bahá’í community and her urgency to learn more about her new Faith so that she could alter the direction of her life.

The Beginning of the Story. Victoria explained her background, her interests, and her hopes:

All of my adult life, I have been involved in working for social justice, the environment, and so on.  And I am weary. I would like to change my way of viewing my activism so that I am not so vulnerable to weariness and falling into an us/them mentality. I believe/hope that learning about Bahá’í methods for economic and social justice will provide me with a more optimistic and loving path. For most of my professional career, I have worked in the area of science literacy—specifically science-information literacy and science civic literacy. I believe that this work is very much related to the Bahá’í teachings on independent inquiry as well as science and religion. I would like to begin working with science literacy based on the Bahá’í teachings. The first step is for me to deepen my knowledge of all Bahá’í teachings.

Moreover, I have always been very interested in understanding the culture of the United States as compared to other cultures. In other words, if there are characteristics common to Americans, what are they? I have also always been interested in the role the United States plays in the world—and, more particularly, what role do I think the United States should play in the world. What are the true contributions that the United States has made, and what contributions can we make in the future? It is my belief (hunch) that there will be a connection between understanding global science literacy and the means to achieve it and understanding the nature of the United States and her role in the world.

Reflection Begets a Plan. When the Wilmette Institute staff caught up with Victoria three months after The Destiny of America ended, she admitted that she had not yet completed the course (for a variety of reasons). But she had “done a lot of reading, thinking, and so on.” She continued her story:

The main reason I took this course was to clarify my thinking on independent investigation, science and religion, and the role of the United States. As part of this, I was working to develop a course on science and religion to teach in my geographical area (an OLLI—Osher Lifelong Learning Institute—course at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, USA). I was actually struggling with what I could actually bring to this discussion/class as I am not academically trained in this particular area and was having a bit of trouble designing a class in which I felt “rooted” and in which I was adding more than a list of readings other people developed.

I finally hit upon developing the interaction of science and religion in the United States—different modes and how the interaction affects education, policy, and so on. I cannot tell you specifically where The Destiny of America (and all of my other unfinished courses) contributed. But I know the ideas from all of them were in my head and interacting with each other. I have not yet integrated all of my threads of thought. But I do think I have taken the first step—and for me that is usually the hardest.

The message I wanted to be sure to tell you: It looks like I am blowing off the course, but there is thinking and learning taking place invisibly.

It would be hard for faculty in any course to ask for more: three courses, more reading, more thinking, a plan for an OLLI course coming into focus.

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