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Our History

“I now feel confident enough to pursue my education on a higher level. I’ve applied to several schools..”

The Clemente Course in the Humanities was founded in 1995 by author Earl Shorris. In the course of his research on poverty in America, he asked an inmate in a maximum-security prison why people are poor. Her answer surprised him. She said that people are poor because they lack access to “the moral life of downtown…a moral alternative to the street.” That is, that they have not been exposed to the cultural life that is so much a part of the world of wealthier people. Based on this conversation, Shorris felt compelled to test the theory that an engagement with the humanities has the power to transform the lives of the poor, that it could change the way they envision their lives and future, as well as their level of participation in the economic and political life of the country. Shorris established the first Clemente Course at the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in New York’s Lower East Side. The course was, in many ways based on the educational model established during Robert Maynard Hutchins era at the University of Chicago and Hutchins’ belief that “the best education for the best is the best education for us all.”

During the first year of the course, Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, became so impressed with the aims, methods, and content of the course that he sought and obtained faculty approval for accrediting the course. Bard continues to award six credits, transferable to virtually any college or university in the country, to students who complete the course at a high level of achievement. There are now more than 20 Clemente Courses across America and internationally.

Our Mission

“The course has helped me to think more critically. There are many changes I need to make in my life. I have been motivated to seek improvement in all my relationships and dealings.”

Bard College Harlem Clemente Course in the Humanities at The Children’s Village engages adult students in challenging economic circumstances who have not had access to higher education with the humanities. Through readings of some of the great literary and philosophical texts of western civilization, through looking at some major achievements in the arts, and by reflecting on these works and the issues they raise in writing and lively seminar discussions, the Clemente Course draws students into an intellectual community that spans thousands of years of human history. While many educational initiatives for the poor focus on job training, Harlem Clemente Course focuses on building habits of reflection about the major social, moral, political, and aesthetic themes of human existence.

 



 

In December 2000, The Clemente Course received important recognition when President Clinton awarded the prestigious National Humanities Medal to Earl Shorris for his vision in founding the Clemente Course as well as his literary accomplishments.

 

The Children’s Village-Bard College Harlem Clemente Course in the Humanities had its inaugural year in 2013-2014. The Children’s Village’s many programs help struggling children and families and are founded on a strong belief in education and social responsibility. Recognizing the importance of adult education for the families and communities the organization serves, Children’s Village is proud to offer a Clemente Course in its Harlem location.

 

In 2013-2014, Harlem Clemente students came from Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Yonkers, and Dobbs Ferry. They ranged in age from 19 to 67 and in education level from 10th grade to a year of college. Many students are parents or grandparents and many work in social services themselves, at drug rehabilitation clinics, domestic violence shelters, and prisons. More than half of our 23 graduates are applying to college or are exploring options for future enrollment

"Now I can help my grandchildren with homework….They say if you are old and can do this, we can too.”






 

The course has two major goals: 1) to enrich the lives of its students, thereby preparing them for fuller participation in the economic and political life of our society 2) to reintroduce adult students to education in a supportive, seminar-based environment, thereby serving as a bridge to enrollment in all forms of higher education for low-income residents of poor communities for whom higher education would not normally be an option.