Commentary

Students

"Reacting was completely unique in my college experience. In playing those games, the words of Gandhi, Socrates, and other historical figures became mine, transcending the academic distance to which I had grown accustomed and tapping into a very personal, intimate realm. Their thoughts, their histories, their biographies are real and alive in my mind." —Amanda Houle, Barnard '06, in "Reacting to 'Reacting'" (Change magazine)

"Even though it was so hard and took a lot of time and effort, it was amazing." —Ali Yehia Zakaria, American University in Cairo '10

"I've learned a lot more here than I've learned in history classes in the past." —Catherine Hay, University of Georgia '09

"History isn't just about dates and historical events, but most importantly, about the people, the ideas, the explorations, the quandaries, the downfalls and tragedies [all of which I am now] able to relate to the present. . . and isn't that what history is all about?" —Dayna Hardtman, Smith College '06

"You're not just reading the Republic and these other great works. You're living them." —Rachel Feinmark, Columbia College '05

 "This allows you to really take part in history. It's not you sitting there listening to your professor babble on. You actually get to do something . . ." —Samuel Zivin, Trinity College '07

 "After taking Reacting, I felt like I really understood why history happened the way it did, and the ways it could have turned out differently." —Ruth Crossman, Barnard College '06

Faculty & Administrators

"I have found teaching a 'Reacting' Seminar to be one of the best educational things I have done in the past 25 years. I have never seen first-year students so engaged in discussion, research, and intellectual conversation as I have in the seminar this fall. Keeping up with their strategies and plans, as they seek to accomplish their 'victory objectives' has me deeply engaged as well. It's been a great experience for all of us."  —Frank G. Kirkpatrick, Ellsworth Morton Tracey Lecturer and Professor of Religion, Trinity College

"Reacting to the Past' has made a major impression on campus life.  Students are debating the issues of Athenian democracy or Confucian propriety over dinner and in their dorms.  Shy students speak, and assertive students lead.  Classes never end on time, more papers are written than are assigned, and the quality of the work is among the best I have ever seen."  —J. Patrick Coby, Professor of Government, Smith College

"I'm not sure I've ever had a classroom full of first-year non-majors chuckling about a reference to the Iliad."            —Nicolas Proctor, Associate Professor of History, Simpson College

"I have never seen students this engaged. They write more than the assignments require; everyone, shy or not, participates vigorously in the debates. They read important texts with real understanding, making complex arguments and ideas their own."  —Larry Carver, Doyle Professor of Western Civilization and Director of the Liberal Arts Honors Programs,  University of Texas at Austin, Chronicle Review (Nov. 12, 2004)

Independent Observers

". . . a new and rapidly growing paedagogical movement called 'Reacting to the Past' is reinventing the Trivium for the 21st century."  —Niall W. Slater, Dobbs Professor of Greek and Latin, President, Phi Beta Kappa, inLiberalArtsOnline

"I came to this revisionist enterprise with a degree of skepticism, but attended the third "game" of the semester, the India Game, which is devoted to an extended version of the Simla conference that the British established in 1945 to determine the shape of India's future. . . The first and perhaps most important thing to say is that students are highly engaged all the time--aroused, amused, talkative. In a word, they are happy. In "Reacting to the Past," no student can withdraw from the class, even if she wanted to do so. The structure of the course forces them all to stay active. The students talk to one another outside of class; they meet in groups for strategy meetings, sometimes staying up as late as 4 a.m. to do so. They communicate by e-mail. Leaders emerge who cajole and shame the lazier students into performing.  .  . I think this is a brilliant and well-developed pedagogical experiment which has met with obvious success: The games produce engagement and ardor in the students and also a dangerous but exciting wrenching of belief in which the students learn the power of subjectivity.  I see the course as an excellent alternative to the traditional version of Contemporary Civilization [Columbia College's 'great books' discussion class.]  [Some students] might not be attracted to "Reacting to the Past," but those who are attracted will flourish and likely have the most exciting experience of their undergraduate careers."
—David Denby, author of Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World and staff writer for the New Yorker