Want an Ivy League Kid? Here's What to Do

Andrew Dalton

I'm reluctant to share this, because for the last year I've felt like part of some secret Ivy League Skull and Bones society but it's too good to keep to myself. Yale is tearing down the Ivy walls and offering a bunch of its introductory courses for free online.

Free? Free!

You (or your kid) can be a part of the elite institution that brought us Claire Danes, Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep and both Bushes -- sort of. You don't actually get credit. But the class sessions are available in audio form on iTunes and video on YouTube, and you get the syllabus and all the handouts on the website. It's a great idea for the kind of place that too often treats itself like a secret society. Some of them are pretty great, I've been listening in my car for the past year.

It's especially useful for parents, for many reasons:

  • The Intro to Psychology course, taught by Paul Bloom, is almost like a highbrow parenting class. He's an expert in developmental psych and specializes in language. He'll make you wish you could have the toddler years back, or make you better prepared for the next ones. And he'll have some great lectures on how little our actions matter. It will make you either angry or hugely relieved, as I was. Made me want to go back to school for psych, which I used to scorn.
  • If you're convinced your public school isn't giving your brilliant kid what they need, it can serve as a nice supplement. The classes are all intro and aren't terribly difficult. Plus it will give them a Yalie mindset, if you want them to have it.
  • They can also serve as reality dose for overly cocky smart kids. You can make them write the papers, I recommend Philosophy of Death. It's freaking hard. And the subject is, uh, dark.  
  • Taking them yourself can either quench your thirst to go back to school, or make you thirstier still. Either way it's a helpful development. It's also good medicine for parents forced to talk to children all day who feel like they're getting stupider. You can do the podcasts in the car or on headphones at dishes time. 

I've taken all of them that I thought I could understand, and now I'm going to dig into some of them, like Game Theory, that I probably can't. A few suggestions (thought the best is the psych class I already mentioned):

  • The American Novel since 1945: Amy Hungerford and her scarves and expressive hand gestures will remind you so much of your lady professors past. The class is great -- you can do Franny and Zooey, Lolita, even Everything is Illuminated
  • Intro to Theory of Literature: For the deeply nerdy. Professor Paul Fry finally made me understand this crap. You feel smart just being in the room with his voice.
  • Roman Architecture: You need to do this one on YouTube because it's useless without the video, but it's well worth sitting down with. Who doesn't dream of sitting and doodling in art history class?

Would you encourage your kid to take these classes? Are you interested in taking them yourself?


Image via Flickr/MarcSmith

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