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Popping the question:
Is there love at first sight?

image: Departments headerLove is a hot topic, especially on Valentine's Day. Which is why Amy and Leon Kass are a few minutes late to their team-taught seminar, Ethics in Everyday Life: Courtship. The couple--she's a Quantrell Award-winning senior lecturer in the College; he's the Addie Clark Harding professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the College--are only a few doors away, being interviewed on National Public Radio about their new anthology, Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying.


"A higher kind
of sex education,
which is to train
the hearts and minds
by means of noble examples for romance leading to a loving marriage."

Leon Kass, SB'58, MD'62


Doing double duty as the syllabus for the equally new seminar, the thick, maroon-bound paperback is the first thing out of each student's backpack as the class enters Cobb 116 on a gray Monday afternoon. The students are growing used to media attention: the previous week they'd played host to an NBC Nightly News crew. Stories about the course--designed to provide what Leon Kass has described as "a higher kind of sex education, which is to train the hearts and minds by means of noble examples for romance leading to loving marriage"--have appeared in papers across the country. "Hey, Joe!" you can hear an editor saying to her reporter. "Here's a cute story--a college class that teaches kids how to date, and just in time for Valentine's Day!"

As they await their professors, the Courtship seminar's two dozen or so undergraduates and grad students, a few more more women than men, talk amongst themselves about topics that don't often show up on Rosie or in Cosmo quizzes. Like Plato. ("I'm not a very big Plato fan, but it's easy to see why people concentrate on the cave allegory; it's very much the heart of his philosophy.") Or the trials of having a hard-to-explain-to-the-folks-back-home major. ("If I said I was a Fundamentals major, they would think I was learning to tie my shoes.") Or which comedy by Aristophanes is which. ("I know it wasn't Lysistrata--oh, it's The Clouds.")

If today's students find the ritual of courtship as old-fashioned as this valentine, what do they think of marriage?

Conversation stops when Amy (AB'62) and Leon (SB'58, MD'62) Kass enter the classroom. Both are gray-haired and bespectacled; both wear crisp, blue Oxford shirts; he's in gray flannels and she wears a Black Watch tartan skirt. They take their places at opposite ends of the table, both with a chalkboard at their backs--chalkboards that won't get used. For the next two hours, the class's modus operandi will be discussion, pure and not-so-simple, centered on a close reading of the day's assignment, five excerpts from Shakespeare's As You Like It.

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  APRIL 2000

  > > Volume 92, Number 4


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