Build Your Own Utopia (Kenneth Roemer)

Nature of the Course, Goals (outcomes), and Means:

“Build Your Own Utopia” is an interdisciplinary course designed to help students to clarify and evaluate their ideals as they improve reading, writing, and group/individual decision-making skills. To achieve these goals, I’ve structured the course around three hypothetical problems similar to those encountered by authors of literary utopias (imaginary better worlds) and founders of utopian (or intentional) communities. (See the class handout for definitions of literary utopias and utopian communities.) Students read several well-known utopian (and dystopian) authors and documents from intentional
communities (e.g., Plato, More, Campanella, Swift, Bellamy, Skinner, Wells, Huxley, Orwell, and documents from the Oneida and Owenite communities), as well as authors and communities discovered or rediscovered during the late twentieth century (e.g., Margaret Cavandish, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Abraham Maslow, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, and the White Hawk Community, which we hope to visit).

In small discussion groups the students use the assigned readings (and any other readings they deem relevant), the Internet (e.g., <> and ), and personal experiences in attempts to define possible solutions to the hypothetical problems. For example, in Problem 2, “The Spartan Family and the New Mexico Commune,” students receive a brief introductory handout that acquaints them with an imaginary community characterized by tensions among the adults and chaotic adult-child relationships. In a step-by-step process called Guided Design, printed instructions and feedbacks direct students through a series of stages (problem definition, information gathering, examining possible solutions, selecting, defining, and justifyinparticular option, etc.) toward an articulation of ways of helping this community.

The two papers support the broad goals of the course by asking students: (1) to develop a model of one utopian individual, and (2) to define influences in their own lives that shape their responses to a particular example of utopian literature. Each in-class
exam is related to issues raised in each problem. The final written goal of the course is a synthesis of in- and out-of-class work and the individual assignments: each student composes a detailed outline of his or her utopia.

For more specific information about the course, see my articles and textbook: “Using Utopia to Teach the 80s,” World Future Society Bulletin 14 (July-Aug. 1980): 1- 5; Build Your Own Utopia (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1981); and
“Utopian Literature, Empowering Students, and Gender Awareness,”  Science-Fiction Studies 23 (1996): 393-403.

Click here for the full syllabus.

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