If you spend some time talking with long-time PLATO members as I recently did, you may hear the word “participation” a lot. Steve Hirsch, member since 2006 and Fred Ross, member since 1996, both mentioned that discussion, questioning, challenging, and to “… encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.” are key to why they have been, and remain, avid participants in PLATO courses. (Do you recognize the quote above? Thanks, Fred, for making me aware of this - https://news.wisc.edu/sifting-and-winnowing-turns-125/ ).
Both gentlemen mentioned their deep affection for Norman Risjord ’s “A Leisurely Walk Through American History,” – Michael Stevens wrote about this in 2019 – read about it here. Other favorites from these two include: Global Affairs, PLATO Travel, Whither the State, and Continuing Philosophy.
Why do they keep coming back to PLATO? Social interaction and the opportunity to participate in active and lively discussion are key. In addition, they both have been, or currently are, course coordinators. After all, PLATO is all about Participatory Teaching as well as Learning. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the fact that PLATO allows you to be curious about a topic and decide to offer a course to like-minded members on that topic. What better way to learn than to teach! Please consider volunteering to coordinate a course.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes …. Well, of course, there have been changes over the years. Fred mentioned that the founders may have thought of PLATO courses in terms of small group discussion. Now, we also offer expert-led, lecture-style formats. Perhaps a bit more passive, but what an opportunity to deepen our understanding of a specific topic. We also discussed the changing format of our courses, virtual, hybrid, and in-person. The convenience of virtual classes is much appreciated but both Fred and Steve mentioned that they miss the camaraderie of in-person classes.
Going forward our long-time members encourage the Curriculum Committee to provide interesting classes and speakers and to stress the opportunity for members to volunteer to TEACH classes.
Lastly, I wanted to mention that Fred stressed that the UW has been extraordinarily generous and supportive of PLATO and that we wouldn ’t be as successful without that support. In appreciation let ’s not forget to donate to the PLATO education fund And, support the AGORA!