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CARE Member Contributions to The Next Thirty Years

The ISLS Program
Submitted by Dick Albert
Chabot College

Interdisciplinary Studies in Letters and Science, or ISLS, began in the mid sixties as an alternative way for students to fulfill basic course requirements in their first year and a half of college. Team taught by five teachers in Humanities, Math-Science, Biology, Social Studies and English, the program featured primary works - no textbooks - a kind of Great Books program. 150 students agreed to stay in the program for three semesters, and received credit for basic requirements without taking separate courses. It was an intensive modular system in which the students would spend the time usually taken up by four or five different courses, studying one work at a time for two weeks. The teachers took turns presenting lectures in the morning, then each teacher took one fifth of the students after lunch for small group discussions and writing papers.

Beginning with the ancient Greeks - Homer, Plato, Sophocles, Euclid - by the end of the third semester, the students were reading writers such as Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf and Frank Lloyd Wright, having visited writers along the way like Dante, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Galileo, Darwin, Marx, Freud and Einstein.

In its later years the curriculum was expanded beyond the traditional Western Civ. emphasis to include works like Rashomon and the Popul Vuh. Most of the ISLS students went on to four year colleges, many to first rate institutions such as U.C. Berkeley and Mills College. In the 1990s the program began taking students to England and France for study abroad, where students participated in a homestay program and received credit for Humanities, a Shakespeare course, and Political Science, a comparative study of British and American systems of government.

For forty years the program was a great success. Begun by Gene Marker, Mary Lou Fitzgerald, Barbara Pope, George Sage and Alan Silverthorn, many different teachers taught in it over the years. Over three thousand students have vivid memories of the excellent preparation the ISLS program afforded them, preparation for the university and for lives as well educated and responsible citizens.

The ISLS program was terminated in 2005, as a cost-saving measure. College leaders decided that with prevailing budget constraints, the program, with its expensive student/teacher ratio, simply wasn’t cost effective. The changing demographics of the college also may have played a part in their decision. Whatever the reasoning, Chabot College lost a unique and valuable program when ISLS was eliminated from the curriculum.

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