Author/educator Earl Shorris, while doing research on the causes of poverty in New York State in 1995, asked a female inmate why some people are poor. She replied, “You’ve got to teach the moral life of downtown to the children. And the way you do that, Earl, is by taking them downtown to plays, museums, concerts, lectures, where they can learn the moral life of downtown.” Moved by that woman’s insight, Shorris started a college-level classical humanities course at Bard College. The student population for the class was made up of homeless people, poor immigrants, ex-convicts, recovering addicts and single mothers. More than 50 percent of the students in that first class completed the course, and today the Clemente Course in the Humanities is being offered successfully at approximately 50 sites across the country, including Trident Technical College.
Charleston Clemente Course at Trident Technical College
In January of 2005, Trident Technical College launched its groundbreaking Charleston Clemente Course Project, offering courses during the fall and spring at Palmer Campus. Students receive free tuition, meals, books, bus passes, mentoring and refurbished computers. In HSS 101, students embark on a study of art and American history. Students passing this course can then take HSS 102, which combines the study of literature, philosophy and writing. In this class, students are exposed to the Western paradigm through the works of Sophocles, Plato, Shakespeare, Kant and Mill and to the Eastern paradigm through excerpts pertaining to Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism. In addition to the classroom, Clemente students participate in other activities, including a play.
Many of Clemente graduates go on to complete their associate and bachelor’s degrees. Some obtain stable jobs and careers, move out of the shelters and into their own apartments. Some overcome addictive behavior patterns that have continually sabotaged them.
Although there are now more than 65 Clemente Courses spread throughout the world, the Charleston Clemente Course is currently the only one in South Carolina. Trident Technical College serves as the Southeast Center for Clemente.
To learn about enrolling, contact Dr. Mary Ann Kohli at 843.720.5713.
What Clemente Students Say about the Program
“The person I used to be was someone who drank a lot, used drugs frequently and went to prison. After getting clean and sober, I joined the Clemente Course. Clemente gave me an awareness of the need for education. It taught me how to understand politics, the economy and the news on television. It made me a part of society."
"Clemente gave me the courage to go to college. It made me realize that I CAN do college and that college really IS for me."
“I now define success as the ability to help others. Success is going to bed knowing that I got outside myself enough to help someone else. For the first time I now think that I have something to contribute to society. I now organize fundraisers for the Clemente Course to give back.”
The Clemente Players
The Clemente Players is directed by Speech, Foreign Language and Theater Department's Dr. Sharon Willis. "There's always been a strong connection between society and theater historically. Theater deals with the human condition,” explains Dr. Willis. “All of mankind can bond through theater because the art of theater deals with issues pertinent today, timeless in nature. Enjoyment and fellowship goes a long way in connecting people of all socio-economic levels. True education always extends past the walls of the classroom. The Charleston Clemente Course Project and Theater seek to extend those classroom walls."
How You Can Help
- Mentors needed: In each class students are paired with individual mentors who maintain once-a-week contact with the student throughout the semester. Mentors offer encouragement and assistance with student assignments and computer usage. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, call Dr. Mary Ann Kohli at 843.720.5713.
- Volunteers needed: Individuals and organizations are needed to sponsor one or more meals for Clemente students. Meals will be served each class meeting. Meals can be sub sandwiches, chips, pizza, vegetable trays, fruit, cookies, soft drinks, etc. Volunteers are needed to set up for the meals and they are invited to stay and participate in the evening's discussion. If you are interested in sponsoring a meal, call Dr. Mary Ann Kohli at 843.720.5713.
- Monetary contributions needed: To ensure the continuation of Clemente Courses, donations can be made to The Trident Technical College Foundation and designated for the Clemente Project.
The Trident Technical College Foundation
P.O. Box 61227
Charleston, SC 29419-1227
- The Charleston Clemente Course at Trident Technical College received a Service Learning Award by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education in 2008. The Service Learning honor programs that extend the reach of the university into the wider community. Criteria included community impact, number of students who participate and integration into academics. Trident Technical College was selected for the Two-Year Colleges category.
- Dr. Mary Ann Kohli, English instructor and director of the Charleston Clemente Course, received a 2008 Faculty Member Award from the Association of Community College Trustees. This award recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in teaching as well as innovation and leadership in the college and community.
- Dr. Kohli received the 2013 Governor’s Award in the Humanities from the South Carolina Humanities Council.
The Socrates Cafe movement was begun in 1996 when Christopher Phillips, a graduate student at Montclair State University, started a discussion club in a coffeehouse in Montclair, NJ. Believing that the demise of Socratic philosophy has been detrimental to society, Phillips has been the inspiration and driving force for the establishment of more than 300 ongoing Socratic discussion groups across the country.
The Charleston Socrates Cafe, an offshoot of the Charleston Clemente Couse, meets 6-7 p.m. the second and fourth Monday of every month at Earth Fare in South Windermere (cafe area). Earth Fare is located West of the Ashley. Everyone is welcome. For more information, call Dr. Mary Ann Kohli at 843.720.5713.