Crisis and Consolation: Liberal Education in the Time of COVID-19

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has sent us into isolation, changed the way we teach and learn, and reorganized our lives in myriad ways, but we are not the first generation to face such disruptions. Thucydides wrote of the plague of Athens in his History, and Sophocles staged Oedipus Tyrannus during that plague. Boccaccio set his Decameron in health crisis that undermined the social order of Florence and sent its protagonists into the country for fresh air and diversion. Camus’s Plague explores impossible choices presented to health care workers and families when an incurable illness ravages a community. And, these are just a few examples.

We turn to the thoughts of great minds on these topics to help us develop perspective, but not just for that. One of the grand claims advocates of liberal education make is that the books we teach can provide consolation and refuge in times of trouble. Like Montaigne, we find companionship in the company of the great minds of the past. Like Emily Dickinson, we invite authors into our solitary lives when actual companionship is impossible. We hear Sappho’s poems of longing and loneliness differently when we come to them in our solitude, and they give us new comfort.

For our 2021 Conference, ACTC invites papers and panels that explore pandemics, epidemics, and other crisis situations that have emerged as themes or served as context for the texts we teach in our core curricula. We also invite panels and papers that explore the consolations of a liberal education in troubled times. And, we invite papers that take up the practical concerns of pandemic pedagogy as they have emerged in our teaching of core texts and courses.

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