Posts about college athletics appear separately on this site in the Ongoing Debate section under NCAA Sports.



Happy New Year. This is a personal note about career innovation in the works.

December’s front-page headline in the Baltimore Sun captures our leap of faith: UB Hopes New Type of Online Class Will Transform Education. UB is the University of Baltimore, here in my home city, and “hope is the operative word. We are excited and unsure, improvising every day, signing up various kinds of students from potentially the entire globe for our first weekly seminar on Tuesday, January 28, 2014.


The path of adaptation strains upward but rushes ahead. Only a year ago, Simon & Schuster published my compact narrative history, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Based on classroom discussions from Alabama to Idaho, I gave the book an unusual author’s dedication,  “For students of freedom and teachers of history.

Civic education has suffered in part because school standards now emphasize math and reading above history. This is a special hazard in a country founded as a bold experiment to secure freedom in the capacity of citizens for self-government.


Many teachers, under siege, had urged me to preserve the storytelling engagement of my civil rights histories in a shorter format for the digital age. These selected moments now reach back fifty years to a dimly remembered civil rights era, when movements led by ordinary citizens uplifted the founding premise of We the People. Their disciplined public trust dispelled cynicism. Their struggles offer abiding lessons for the future.

I had taught seminars in civil rights history since the 1990s, most recently at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Our recent experiments at the University of Baltimore have measured the promise of online learning by the standards of academic rigor. Can a course fairly serve both in-class students and digital participants from Hawaii or Russia? Such problems occupied us through most of 2013.


Now we take the next step. Citizenship & Freedom is not a MOOC. Freedom is not free, but quality education should be affordable.

Course information is available on which includes the 14-week syllabus and registration procedures for several student categories.

I am grateful to the new associate instructor, Dr. Jelani Favors, and to colleagues within the hosting University of Maryland system for their entrepreneurial courage.

Adventures and thickets loom ahead. Updates soon.

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The King Years by Taylor BranchI will teach a weekly history seminar this spring term at my home town University of Baltimore. The course will explore the modern civil rights era at its transformative peak, 1954-68.

University of Baltimore

This class will be experimental and exciting for me in several respects. Most important, the in-class seminar will be accessible without charge via Web connection to a selected group of registered auditors. They will pay no fees and receive no college credit. All we seek from auditors is candid feedback about the content and delivery of this special prototype course. […]

We hope to develop for the future an in-class seminar that can be shared via the Web by an expandable group of participants from diverse places and backgrounds, registered individually or through institutions for credit. Therefore, for this trial run, the University of Baltimore will accept interested auditors from a wide variety of groups: students and teachers (high school through college), non-degree candidates, general lay readers, and specialists in subject areas from race relations and social movements to government and nonviolence.

Several of the technical departments at the University of Baltimore have cooperated to make the in-class seminar available via the Web to registered auditors simultaneously, by live-stream connection, and also by delayed retrieval and review.

I have taught a similar course several times before, most recently last spring as a visiting Honors professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. Those courses carried intensive reading assignments from texts that included my 2,306-page King-era trilogy. This new course is designed to introduce the most salient events and issues through a more compact core curriculum. The weekly readings are built around the eighteen chapters of my newly released book, The King Years, which is a 190-page guided distillation of the longer work.

Information about the book is available from my website:

Information about the course, including registration for potential auditors, is available in the official announcement by the University of Baltimore. The seminar will meet on Wednesdays from 5:30-8:00pm, starting with an introductory session on January 23.


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Dear friends and readers:

I have written for The Atlantic magazine a short history of college sports in the United States. It will be released on the web next Tuesday, September 13. For more, see below.

Meanwhile, please excuse my low profile over the past year. I have been burrowed away on several new initiatives. For the long term, I have been researching two projected books based in the Constitutional era of U.S. history, which is a significant and enthralling jump back in time for me.

I have also joined novel experiments to reform the teaching of American history in our schools.  Improvement is sorely needed.  Students score abysmally low on history and basic civics, in part because schools have been evaluated on test scores limited to math and reading.  With textbooks dying out, and inadequate, our goal is to provide teachers with story-based resource material in engaging, digestible units at low cost, or for free.  My part so far has been to extract from my civil rights trilogy the most essential narrative lessons for both printed edition and access via the internet.  I began the process a reluctant, old-fashioned author but have become an eager convert.  The upcoming efforts will be announced in the next few months and launched next year.

The Atlantic assignment took me, a casual sports fan, into unfamiliar worlds of colliding passion. Many people think big-money sports have corrupted higher education, while others think greedy athletes have corrupted college sports. Instead, I found thoughtless exploitation beneath the NCAA’s Oz-like amateur ideal. It made me an abolitionist, and I hope at least to broaden the scope of debate. I welcome your reaction. Advance tidbits of my argument will be posted daily until Tuesday.

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