David Porter leads a discussion on the topic of extinction during a recent meeting of Colloquy Downeast members at the Blue Hill Public Library. The discussions are facilitated by an expert, but unlike a lecture, the most important aspect of a colloquy is for its participants to engage in informed discussion with each other. Topics range from the scientific, to the literary, historical and political. PHOTO BY TAYLOR BIGLER

Colloquy Downeast discussion series exercises the mind

BLUE HILL — “The brain is like a muscle,” the astrophysicist Carl Sagan said. “When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous.” If that is the case, then the members of the discussion series Colloquy Downeast must be feeling pretty happy.

“I always had something like this in mind,” said Ron Lesko of Brooklin, one of Colloquy Downeast’s founding members. “I always thought that community education was essential to authentic American democracy.”

Lesko, a retired political science and philosophy professor with the State University of New York system, formed Colloquy Downeast some 15 years ago with other retired professors in the area who refused to stop learning.

“We have a really broad range of topics, some are about current affairs, some are historical, some are literary,” said Colloquy Downeast Board member Clifton Page.

A colloquy is, by definition, a discussion. Unlike a lecture series or a traditional class, colloquies are formatted with one facilitator who is knowledgeable of the topic at hand. But individual participation is one of the most important aspects of the format.

“I think the success [of Colloquy Downeast] is due to the uniqueness of our approach,” Lesko said. “It really is meant to encourage people to challenge their own assumptions about various aspects of life.”

Colloquies meet once a week for four weeks for two hours each, usually at the Blue Hill Public Library. A group of no more than 15 people from a host of different backgrounds “from Bar Harbor to Belfast” come prepared to discuss the topic at hand.

“Our attendees are people across the board, from all walks of life, from all levels of education,” Page said. “It’s mostly retired people but we have had some George Stevens Academy students…there is a smattering of people who are not retired who can find the time.”

Colloquy topics have varied in subject from some of the early discussions on terrorism, Thomas Jefferson and American Indian policies, to subjects such as the evolution of comedy; marketing and advertising; fashion design; the dream theories of Carl Jung; the Romantic poets and security and privacy in the digital age.

Colloquy facilitators don’t necessarily have an academic background in the subject, but an informed interest in it.

“We’ve had a pediatric thoracic surgeon whose big specialty was aspects of American history,” Lesko said. “Some people who are interested in science and will go to a history colloquy, and vice versa.”

David Snow of Surry, the current president of Colloquy Downeast, is a former lawyer who has facilitated colloquies on the Supreme Court and First Amendment.

“We are on the lookout all the time for people with an enthusiasm for a topic to be facilitators,” he said.

If you’re a former chemistry teacher with a passion for modern art, Colloquy Downeast is just the place for you.

Said Lesko, “Our motivation [is] to encourage people to exercise their minds with what they know or what they want to know,” Lesko said.

To learn more about Colloquy Downeast, visit colloquydowneast.org.

Taylor Bigler Mace

Taylor Bigler Mace

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Taylor covers sports and maritimes for the Islander. As a native of Texas, she is an unapologetic Dallas Cowboys fan. [email protected]
Taylor Bigler Mace

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