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Monday, June 1, 2009

'Road Rules'-Like Group of Christian College Students Rolling Through San Francisco

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2009 at 8:15 AM

click to enlarge Tom Green would have been available for this 'road trip' as well...
  • Tom Green would have been available for this 'road trip' as well...
Hey, here's an idea for some great television. Take 10 young people -- and make 'em all good-looking and no older than 22. Give some of 'em an ethnic and big-city background, but make sure to get some country mixed in with that rock 'n' roll. Could at least one of them wear a cowboy hat unironically? Thanks. Give 'em a bus, send 'em around the country -- and, hey! How about they're all from a Christian college -- and they go to the Castro?

Sound like MTV? It's actually Belmont University. The Nashville, Tenn. school -- which may be best known for very nearly toppling No. 2 seed Duke in last year's NCAA basketball tournament before falling, 71-70 -- has come up with a novel take on summer school that's cooler -- and costlier -- than anything university-affiliated your humble narrator can recall (even that Blaxploitation class we took at U.C. Berkeley in '97).

Professor Ken Spring has combined his field of sociology with the "Rock 'n' roll experience of going on a bus -- you sleep through the night and each day it's a new experience." Ten (young, good-looking) undergraduates roll out of Nashville this week; they're slated to hit San Francisco on the 18th. And, yes, Belmont is a Christian school -- that just quasi-acrimoniously split with the Southern Baptists.

Spring hatched the idea for this summer class -- officially a sociology course as well as a travel writing seminar -- several years ago when he bemoaned that so many young Americans backpack around Europe, but so few of us trek around our own country.

When asked what the itinerary would be for the San Francisco portion of the trip, he noted that, yes, tourist-friendly locales such as Fisherman's Wharf were front and center. What beneficial educational material -- strike that -- what beneficial material of any sort can be gleaned from Fisherman's Wharf, a tourist trap that could just as well be located in Kankakee, Ill.? Spring was glad we asked -- this is a big part of the trip. He's interested in differentiating between the "must-see" sites locals would pitch as opposed to, say, the local chamber of commerce.

"This is one of the things we're trying to examine," Spring notes. "Why do the chambers of commerce push certain areas? Part of this is that examination of what it means to be a tourist in your own land."

Well, that sounds sociological, all right.

Spring and fellow Professor Andy Stepnick have a delicate balancing act to pull off; finding the equilibrium ratios of "fun" and "education" will be no easy feat. But, Spring insists, this is no debaucherous road trip masquerading as higher education: Students are responsible for three eight-page essays for the sociology section in addition to a pair of 10-to-12-page essays for the travel writing segment -- and daily blog updates (the bus is WiFi enhanced; you'll be able to read along with the student bloggers here).

Oh, the cost: Spring -- without a moment's hesitation -- notes that his 40-day course will set back students $7,200. Let that sink in. That's a lot. But, then again, higher education could be so named because of its price tag. The cost of a regular summer course at Belmont is $6,000 -- so, for a mere $1,200 you get to roll all around the nation. The tuition at Belmont, incidentally, exceeds $27,000 a year.

These are the sorts of figures that make us curse that we couldn't have enjoyed our parents' good fortune to receive excellent educations at Brooklyn College for the price of an armful of knishes.

Then again -- their idea of a road trip involved taking the Studebaker to Jones Beach.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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