Lifelong Learner Seminars 2021

Welcome to the 2021 season of Lifelong Learner Seminars at Luther College. Our seminars offer an opportunity for area people to enjoy the academic program at Luther College and engage in meaningful scholarly dialogue and study in a college setting.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's Lifelong Learner's seminars will be held remotely via Zoom. (You will need to purchase your own books ahead of time, and you will need a computer capable of joining a Zoom meeting, The Luther Book Shop or Dragonfly Books should have copies of the books available.) Zoom sessions will not be recorded.

While normally each session lasts for one month, The March course will be just three sessions over three weeks.

Because we are meeting remotely and will not have food or beverage costs, the 2021 seminars are free.

We will determine soon if we will be able to offer another Spring seminar in April and May 2021. Class size is limited to around fifty (50) spots. If there are more than 50 requests for the seminar, a lottery drawing will determine the class list... That said, we think we will be able to accommodate everyone who wants in. If you sign up as a couple, you will always be drawn together. Couples are encouraged to share a computer, if possible, to reduce the number of Zoom screens to monitor for discussion purposes.

We encourage you to use the Lifelong Learner Seminar Online Registration Form to register. If you are unable to use the online form, you may call Associate Director of Alumni Relations Kirk Johnson directly at 563-387-1659, or email him at [email protected].

March 17, 24, 31, 2021

SEMINAR 2. A Discussion of, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil

Weapons of Math Destruction

We live in the age of big data. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to college, whether we can get a job or a loan, or how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by artificial intelligence. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness; but as a data scientist Cathy O’Neil reveals, the mathematical models being used today are unregulated and incontestable, even when they’re wrong! Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination—propping up the privileged and rich, but punishing the underrepresented and undermining our democracy in the process. In this discussion we will delve into the dark side of Big Data, and why a liberal arts college should be educating future data scientists. While Weapons of Math Destruction is a data science book, it is very accessible to the layperson and very relevant to our current society.

We will convene virtually via Zoom from 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. (Iowa time) for THREE Wednesdays, beginning Wednesday, March 17 and finishing on Wednesday, March 31.

We hope you will join us for three sessions in March to discuss this important topic that affects us all.

Moderator: Bradley Miller, Professor Emeritus Computer Science



Session One (March 17)
Chapters 1-3

Session Two (March 24)
Chapters 4-7

Session Three (March 31)
Chapters 7-Afterword



January 13, 27 / February 3, 10, 17, 24 / March 3, 2021

SEMINAR 1. An Angry and Fractured America. How Did We Get Here? with Ruth Caldwell, Paul Gardner, and Alan Lerstrom

The Upswing

America today is deeply divided economically, politically, socially, and culturally. And it is an angry country. Despite significant progress in addressing historic inequalities, America continues to fall short on racial, gender and other forms of exclusion. Americans seem more concentrated on their individual pursuits without regard to the common good. Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett’s The Upswing: How America came together a century ago and how WE can do it again, provides a macro history of how Americans faced and gradually overcame similar challenges 100 years ago. Join us as we use this book to frame our conversations about “how did America get here?” and “what can we do to come together?” to meet the challenges America and the world face today. The Upswing can be purchased at the Luther College Bookstore and Decorah’s Dragonfly Books.

We will convene virtually via Zoom from 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. (Iowa time) for seven Wednesdays, beginning Wednesday, January 13 and finishing on Wednesday, March 3. The March 3 session will focus on the organization Braver Angels and will include community members familiar with the organization.

We hope you will join us for these wide-ranging conversations about America.

Ruth Caldwell, Professor Emerita of French
Paul Gardner, Professor Emeritus of Political Science
Alan Lerstrom, Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies


Session One (January 13)
Putnam & Garrett Chapter 1 “What’s Past is Prologue”

January 20, Presidential Inauguration (No Class)  

Session Two (January 27)
Putnam & Garrett Chapter 2 “Economics" & Chapter 3 “Politics”

Session Three (February 3)
Putnam and Garrett Chapter 4 “Society” & Chapter 5 “Culture”

Session Four (February 10)
Putnam & Garrett Chapter 6 “Race” & Chapter 7 “Gender”

Session Five (February 17)
Putnam & Garrett, Chapter 8 "Arc" & Chapter 9 "Drift & Mastery"

Session Six (February 24)
Putnam & Garrett wrap-up conversation

Session Seven (March 3)
Braver Angels


The final two class sessions of Spring 2020's course, Viennese School: Music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were postponed in March. We recorded the final lectures by Dr. Griesheimer and posted them online here.