Duty to your Seminar

By Karl Schudt, Seminar Host 

Here at Online Great Books, we have a problem. Sometimes, people do not attend their seminar. They keep paying and they keep receiving their books, but they don't show up for the weekly seminar. This is problematic. Not only because they aren't getting full value for their membership, but because the other members of their seminar are not getting full value.

When I was in college, I played in a lot of music ensembles. I remember one particular time, when the director picked out the very best members of the band and made us into a select ensemble to play some more difficult pieces. We got together to practice once a week, and it was very frustrating. Every week we would practice the same passages over and over and over again. We weren’t getting any better. It was not rewarding, and I was ready to quit. I could tell the director was frustrated as well. This may seem out of character for me, unless you know me in person, but I stood up at practice and berated the fellow members.

“Why are we doing this? Why is nothing getting better? Why are we making the same mistakes over and over again?”  I made the point that if there were 20 people in the group, and each person made 5 mistakes per musical piece, there would be 100 mistakes per piece. 100 mistakes means it was going to be pretty bad overall. The only way that we could get better is if each member of the group took responsibility upon himself or herself to practice the difficult passages. If we came to the rehearsals ready to go with all the difficult parts mastered, the rest of us could enjoy the rehearsal. Then we could work on the music, the emotion inherent within it, do honor to the composer, and make something that elevates both musicians and the audience. I am happy to say that my tirade worked. We did much better, and it was very good.  

Seminars are like this. You aren’t playing a piece of music, but the value that your seminar mates get out of Online Great Books depends on you. If only 3 people show up, the seminar is not nearly as good. Just like in the musical group making mistakes on the trumpet part didn’t just hurt me, it hurt everyone else in the group, so it is with the seminar. If you don’t show up, everyone has lower value. 

We put this very question up to our members in the open discussion forum of the OGB slack: “Why do you miss seminar meetings?” 

Some members mentioned, in refreshing honesty, that if they did not read the entire book, they were too embarrassed or disappointed to attend their seminar. 

That simply should not be the case. OGB member Tae puts it best: 

“It’s perfectly fine to attend without having read all the material. Or even without having read it in depth, or with great understanding. Understanding often comes from seminar (although often it just raises more questions, which is equally enjoyable, if not more so). Much of our conversation has to do with theories and definitions in general. We’re not presenting book reports! Maybe people don’t get that (I know I didn’t, until I showed up unprepared once, and it was fine).

Also, it’s supposed to be FUN. The reading and the seminar. Sometimes I get the feeling people are approaching these like they’re being graded, or life is on the line. Why so serious? You can get lost in the stories and have a good time, and still be studious.

I find some people really get hung up on participation and saying the Right Thing. There have been at least three times when an attendee held their thoughts until the end, and I wish they had just spoken up during – there’s so much we could have talked about! And I bet there are people who don’t attend because they’re afraid they don’t know what to say. How to make those people comfortable, I’m not sure.

So yeah, tell people to have fun, shake off the inhibitions, come prepared (preferably) or not. Lord knows there are enough of us who attend who yammer on, that people who don’t feel so inclined can still get something out of it, worse comes to worst.” 

To those that attend seminar regularly, there is no doubting the tremendous value it has on reading understanding. The problem tends to lay in the barriers to entry.  

Regardless if it’s social or technological anxiety, scheduling conflicts, or failure to read the book, Seminar discussion is best once you get in and get moving! Like the gym, sometimes the hardest part is arriving there in the first place. 

I know that our lives are busy and that it can be difficult to make it to the monthly seminar. I understand that. Too often the seminar gets stuck in the important but not urgent category. Nevertheless, you are missed. We need you!


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