Ghost hunting school in session: Talking to dead hits higher ed

Very rarely does something pop into my inbox that really blows my mind and signals such a paradigm shift that I'm left nearly reeling and wondering, "what's next?" Such a moment occurred this week when a reader sent a link, without comment, directing me to an Indiana community college Web site. Like the curious cat I am, I followed.

Sure enough, buried on page 7 of the Ivy Tech Community College's Department of Workforce & Economic Development's 2010 Spring/Summer course catalog, I discovered an amazing example of the mainstreaming of the paranormal: A class titled "Advanced Paranormal Investigation."

Taught at the accredited school in Kokomo, it's actually a follow-up to the introductory "Paranormal
Investigation" class, and is taught by Al Taylor, Executive Trainer on the "Corporate Board of Directors" of Indiana Ghost Trackers.

The $55 course, which began last Thursday and meets once a week through May 13, has a minimum age requirement of 16 and teaches "advanced investigative techniques" and will "conclude with a field trip during which you may encounter interactive spirits, residual haunting, earth elements and poltergeist."

I quickly found the weekly newspaper Kokomo Perspective had already reported the event with understated aplomb, straightforwardly describing the class as taking students "further into the world of the paranormal" with lessons at a "local family's house and also a cemetery" and including "electronic voice phenomena (EVP) and paranormal photography."

To put this into perspective, aside from the educational name of reality TV's Ghost Hunters Academy, schooling in the paranormal hasn't been available since Loyd Auerbach's Graduate Parapsychology Program at JFK University folded more than 20 years ago (although Auerbach still teaches a state-recognized certificate program in Parapsychological Studies at HCH Institute in California). Plus, a program on how to investigate - instead of just the history of the field or its reflection in, say, film - is fairly unheard of.

Granted, taking a fun Thursday night class in paranormal investigating at the community college isn't the same as earning a degree in it, and capitalizing on pop-culture interests isn't particularly novel for institutes of higher learning not averse to teaching courses about the Science of Harry Potter or Philosophy of Star Trek.

But is this the beginning of a larger trend within paranormal pop culture and the mainstreaming of ghost hunting? Additionally, because this course is taught in the continuing education department - and certainly both the college and professor are making money off the instruction of investigative methods - it is worth considering whether this is a preface to investigative groups turning pro on a local level and charging for services.

Finally, the question remains how a class based totally on theories and conjecture, with no supportable facts backing it up, can be taught.

Whatever the methodology, certainly catching a "full-bodied" should nab a student an "A," and all the underachievers can just claim battery drain if they forget to do their EVP homework.