Since 2005, a free liberal arts program based in Halifax’s North end has been making a difference in the lives of people whose passion for learning would otherwise go unfulfilled.
Halifax Humanities 101 is a free not-for-credit course offered to adults living on low incomes. Engaging classes in philosophy and literature are taught by a roster of university professors from all six Halifax universities who volunteer their time.
High school completion is not a requirement, and there are no tests, essays or exams. Students do need a good reading ability, a love of learning, an open mind to explore ideas and the willingness to make a substantial time commitment.
The current model is inspired by the University of King’s College Foundation Year Programme.
“An eight month, sustained chronological approach to classical texts in philosophy and literature is what we offer,” said Mary Lu Redden, director of Halifax Humanities 101. “It’s very much a core text program with no secondary material, you get right into the actual authors.”
Classes are held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the North Branch Public Library. Students typically read five to 10 hours per week, and can also choose to participate in a Saturday writing program.
“One of the things that stands out for me is the sense of freedom students have because this is something they do purely for their own enrichment,” Redden said. “Nobody is telling them to do this..There’s a true sense of intellectual exploration, a sense of ‘I did this because I wanted to do this.”
About 20 new students attend the course every year. Books are provided, and during class time students can benefit from bus tickets and childcare subsidies.
Redden is gearing up for another academic year and is accepting applications from now until Sept. 21. Students typically come from Halifax, Dartmouth, Spryfield and Sackville. They range in age from late teens to sixties.
She believes the true benefits of the program are reflected in the valedictorian addresses delivered to the graduating classes at year’s end.
“If you are teaching someone math, it is highly unlikely that you will learn something new about math from your student. In the humanities however, the role of giver and receiver is constantly shifting. Whoever is speaking at the time becomes the giver,” a 2011 valedictorian said.
"This can be a very empowering and validating experience for people in low income situations like us. We are used to being seen as the receiver and are rarely valued for our life experience or our opinions. Being able to share something of ourselves and being validated for this can change our minds about who we are and this change will manifest throughout our lives.”
Halifax Humanities 101 is a registered charity. Call 425-7589 or go to www.halifaxhumanities101.ca for more information.
Beginning this fall, the Halifax Humanities Society is offering something for people who want to read the classics of Western Civilization with the guidance of gifted, passionate teachers. It's called HALIFAXTHINKS! and also serves as a fundraiser for the Halifax Humanities 101 program.
The 'Lectures in Western Civilization Series' starts soon, with a first course on The Ancient World (running October through January). This is an interdisciplinary consideration of primary texts from the first cities to the rise of Islam and is offered online in a series of 12 lectures you can access at your convenience.
There are no papers, tests, exams or pressure. Twice a month participants are invited to a live tutorial held at one of Halifax's universities.
The cost is $500, all of which is applied directly to support the tuition free teaching in Halifax Humanities 101.
The class size for the initial course is limited to 35. For inquiries, a full reading list, or to register, contact Mary Lu Redden at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 425-1521.