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My initial experience with honors in academia occurred several years ago when I was approached to teach a 3-credit course as the humanities component of the honors curriculum at Clarion University. Being a musician, I was not quite certain what I could offer these students. The majority of them could not read music, much less play a musical instrument, and I knew that I wanted the course to be more than a typical general education survey course. Several years later, and through participation at National Collegiate Honors Council conferences, I have learned that dilemma is typical in honors programs. I have learned also that the arts are often perceived by students, and occasionally the administration, to be “easy” and “fun,” or buzzwords such as “non-academic” and “dispensable,” but these misperceptions are dismissed quickly once the rigors of the discipline are introduced.
I should mention that the Clarion University Honors Program has a strong commitment to the arts and humanities in the curriculum. The students enroll in a 3-credit course (HON 130) that is taught during the second semester of the students’ freshman year. A different offering is taught each year by a different instructor; it generally involves art, music, theatre and/or dance. Very few restrictions are put on the professor; hands-on experiences are preferred; the classroom atmosphere should be encouraging and challenging; and students should not be subjected to an excessive amount of work just because they are smart.
Through the course of many years and much thought, several successful arts courses have been taught at Clarion University. This article presents four syllabi of these courses. After each syllabus, the professor of record provides some commentary on the course and, perhaps, some obstacles to avoid. I hope that these syllabi may serve as points of departure or models for readers to develop the arts in their own curricula.