Humanists know we have one life in this one world and aspire to make it a good and meaningful life. Many people adopt this philosophy without realizing that it’s called “humanism” and has a long history that spans centuries and continents. Have you ever wondered how and why humans develop moral values? Or wanted to understand how to apply scientific and ethical theories in your pursuit of the “good life?”
Road Scholar is providing three great opportunities to delve into the origins of humanism and the spectrum of humanist thought with Fred Edwords, the American Humanist Association’s historian and one of our favorite storytellers.
“Philosophy of Living: Humanist Values & Ancient Greek Wisdom” classes will be held at the beautiful family-owned Gray Ghost Inn in the Green Mountains of Vermont in three sessions: June 9-14, October 14-19, and October 21-26. Each includes talks and presentations on nontheism, moral development, and critical thinking. The first two sessions (June 9-14 and October 14-19) will focus on the ideas of modern-day humanists like Richard Dawkins and Gloria Steinem, and the third week (October 21-26) is centered on ancient Greek wisdom. Students will together explore social, economic, and political issues as seen through a humanist lens, with an eye toward social change.
As a dedicated humanist activist since 1977, Edwords is an excellent teacher for these classes. His wealth of knowledge comes from his decades with the AHA—including as executive director, Humanist magazine editor, and communications director—and six years as national director of the United Coalition of Reason. This will be his tenth year teaching a variation of this Road Scholar class, which in the past has also included Ethical Culture Leader Anne Klaeysen and former AHA President Michael Werner as co-teachers. Following his Vermont classes, Edwords is often asked by students to present for local humanist groups and to provide shorter workshops on particular lessons, a request he tries to accommodate as much as possible.
The development of the class began in 2007 when the humanist owners of the Gray Ghost Inn reached out to The Humanist Institute (which merged with the American Humanist Association in 2018 to become the AHA Center for Education) to design a week-long humanist class. Carol Wintermute, the Institute’s executive director at the time, prepared a curriculum based on the graduate-level Humanist Studies Program and submitted it to Road Scholar (at that time called Elderhostel). Over time, Edwords has reworked the lesson plans to address the many questions he’s received over the years and has incorporated new technologies. Lessons are a mix of lecture, discussion, PowerPoint, video, and interactive activities. Each year the class attracts about twenty-four students who range from those new to humanism to experienced leaders in the movement interested in learning more effective ways to present humanism to the public and gain a deeper understanding of humanist ideas.
The Gray Ghost Inn provides an optimal serene setting for such humanist discussions. “The whole atmosphere is rustic, informal, and relaxing,” says Edwords. “The individual rooms are homey and the classroom setting is like a giant living room in front of a fireplace.” All meals—which are included in the registration cost—feature locally grown produce served in a spacious dining room with a view. Outside of class sessions, students are free to walk the grounds on their own or join a hike with a guide, enjoy music programs with local artists, and take trips to nearby historical sights. Edwords also incorporates the surrounding Green Mountain area in his lesson on Adventures in Humanist History. For example, freethinker and deist Ethan Allen—who co-led the paramilitary group the Green Mountain Boys—wrote about how humans are free agents within the natural world. And the Old First Church in nearby Old Bennington was the first religious congregation in Vermont to be dedicated to the principle of the separation of church and state.
All are welcome to join Fred Edwords and other inquisitive humanists in Vermont starting in June (see details here). Come explore the full spectrum of humanist thought and enhance your continuing humanist journey.