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Why my students are baffled
Liberal arts curriculum is increasingly diverseA given semester presents a student with a crazy salad of epistemologically distinct traditions of knowledge, offering students no coherent “big picture”No “core curriculum” – even if we had one, it needs to be reinforced in classesProposal: assignments be included in each class to help studentsSynthesize the content from various courses into a whole or a “map”Retain the content of a given semester (and a college career) more readily
My advisee’s Fall 2010 semester
First classAnglophone Poetry 1: The Story from Spenser to Dickinson - LLSL 2663 AThis course follows the development of poetry in English from the 16th to the 19th century, a period which not only sees the flowering of a rich poetic tradition in England, but the attempt to found a different tradition in the U.S. This course closes with the work of Whitman and Dickinson in the U.S. and Tennyson and theBrowningsin the U.K.. The class reads selectively and closely, mapping the ways particular forms travel through time and are both shaped by and shape culture. This course satisfies the approaches to literary studies requirement for literary studies majors.Notes on epistemology: This course is not about “truth” or “knowledge” per se, but about cultural artifacts valued for their perceived beauty and complexity, as well as their importance to the history of literature. These poems may also be thought to contain knowledge gleaned from intuition.
I discuss my advisee’s fall semester courses with her (cont’d)
Second classSex/Gender 1: The Queerness of Children - LCST 2781 ATwentieth-century representations frequently recycle enduring paradoxes surrounding children, imagining them as simultaneously idiot and savant, perverse and innocent, imperiled by and a danger to society. We might say that the child is a decidedly "queer" figure---one that not only occupies an exceptional or peculiar position in relation to the social order, but also unsettles or "queers" normative distinctions between nature and culture. To make sense of this contradictory queerness of children, we will consider a range of literary and scientific discourses, to critically examine their cautionary or hopeful stance regarding children, including: philosophy (Rousseau, Benjamin), anthropology (Niuwenhuys), psychoanalysis (Freud), developmental psychology (Miller, Bettelheim), sociology (Chalfen), queer theory (Stockton, Edelman), critical theory (Berlant), and media theory (Cartwright,Higonnet). We will pay particular attention to alternative, minor, and non-Western practices that define childhood more fluidly, assessing their challenges for debates regarding child labor and sexuality. Media will include cartoons (/The Jungle Book/), fairy tales (/Hansel and Gretel/), mainstream (/Children of Men/), documentary (/My Kid Could Paint That/), and ethnographic films (/Babies!/), human rights media (/Invisible Children/), and reproductive and gay rights campaigns (/It Gets Better /project). Track C]Notes on epistemology: Marx-Frankfurt School-derived criticism is applied to a range of media, chosen for its cultural importance (The Jungle Book) or its value as political testimony (Invisible Children).The class does not seek to offer knowledge whose claim to veracity rests on scientific method, but rather takes as its subject the distinction between “normative” attitudes and corrective attitudes towards children and corrective or revisionist commentary.
I discuss my advisee’s fall semester courses with her (cont’d)
Third classScreening the City - LURB 3028 AThis course examines the changing representation of cities in film, drawing on major theoretical debates within urban studies to explore the two-way relationship between the cinema and the city. Visually compelling and always modern, cities are the perfect metaphor for the contemporary human condition. Students consider the celluloid city not as a myth in need of deconstruction but as a commentary in need of explication, a resource that offers a unique insight into our complex relationship with the urban experience. Throughout the course, cinema's artistic encounter with the city will intersect with a theoretical and political engagement in which issues such as race, class, sexuality, architecture, planning, the environment, (post)modernity, capitalism, and utopianism are explicitly examined.Notes on epistemology: This class does not seek to offer facts or hard (scientific) knowledge about the city. Instead, it considers filmic representations a source of cultural attitudes and shared experience (“our complex relationship”). Relying on critical theory (post-Marxist systematization), the course offers a survey of normative and corrective attitudes toward the city, including questions of utility and meaning.
I discuss my advisee’s fall semester courses with her (cont’d)
Second classDream Interpretation - LPSY 3103 AThis course introduces students to the methods of dream interpretation that Freud, Jung, and others have proposed in the 20th century. In 1900, Freud published his book on dream interpretation, believing that he had discovered the “secret” of dream. The psychology community has now had a hundred years of psychoanalytic dream interpretation. In this course students learn to apply psychoanalytic techniques to interpret dreams in order to know the unconscious. Students explore psychoanalytic theory, dreams, the unconscious, and hermeneutics (the philosophy of the interpretation of texts). They also explore cultural aspects of interpretation through the example of African-American traditions about dreams in AnthonyShafton’sDream-Singers: The African American Way with Dreams. This course satisfies some of the requirements in Literary Studies: in both concentrations.Epistemological notes: The source of knowledge in this class is largely from modernist theories, influenced by scientific method but not strictly scientific. It also offers a survey of other techniques for interpreting dreams: the focus is on ideas of what dreams “mean.” The class may be more about cultural concepts of dreams than about the mysterious phenomenon of dreams themselves.
How students remember
Students remember things they can connect to other things or to a broad framework1Connection to personal experience, current eventsConnections between courses: types of knowledge related to other types of knowledgeConnection to the history of ideas or pure historyConnection to a “map” or timeline of ideas and paradigms1Greenleaf, Robert.Brain-Based Teaching: Making Connections for Long-Term Memory and Recall. New York:Papanek, 2005.
Types of knowledge:the simplest taxonomy
Personal: knowledge through experienceProcedural: learning how to do somethingPropositional: ideas and theoriesWays of establishing validityHistory of each type of proposition
By divine revelationor enlightenment through meditation. Ancient (Gautama Buddha 6thCb.c.e.)Mathematical proof:Pythagorus(b. ca. 570b.c.e.): established religious precepts through mathBy listening to thetestimony of witnessesdates from ancient times (oral tradition and chroniclers).Bydialogical enquiry and resultant systematization. Method of critical “theory” harkens back to Platonic dialogues (4thCb.c.e.)Argument fromauthority: may begin with the early Roman empire (1stCb.c.e.), which looks back to Greek philosophy and epics. Also, authority oftradition, language culture.Scientific method: established by Bacon (b. 1561), developed by Newton (b. 1642); involves propositions established through replication under controlled conditionsByintuition: may original with Kant (b. 1724), developed by Schiller (b. 1759).
Ways of establishing validity of propositions
Revelation (ancient): predicts the future, explains death (Christianity)
Oral tradition myth (ancient): defines the values of a people, explains life/death, nature. (Homer)
Dialogic knowledge (classical) seeks to describe the world, social structures, and metaphysics using logic (Plato)
Science uses propositions which can be proven through application or falsified by contrary examples (Newton)
Poetry and literature draws from religious doctrine, oral tradition myth, but constructs its own knowledge through aesthetics/intuition
History draws from storytelling and hard evidence
Modernistsystematizing tends to reverse traditional ideas of primary and secondary: sickness before health; economics as a source of all culture, evolving through revolution (Marx). Has elements of romanticism and religion.
Postmodern and poststructuralist perspectives and literature deny any source of knowledge, viewing traditional forms of knowledge as equally arbitrary, promoted by a vague but systematic “power” (Foucault)
Postmarxist(largely) Continental critical theory seeks to undo the cultural training that perpetuates an imbalance of power and forestalls revolution. This focuses on race, gender, and sexuality.
Beginning to organize content
Connecting questions
Fir the material from your classes into the epistemological timelineRomanticism, a 19th-century philosophy valuing innocence and intuition, influenced Marxism and poetry. How do your four classes engage with knowledge gained from intuition?How much procedural knowledge did you get from your classes this semester? What parts of your classes emphasized experiential or personal knowledge?How important is the scientific idea of “proof” to the content of your classes and the work expected from you therein?How much of the knowledge presented in your classes this semester relies on authority rather than scientific proof or the use of evidence? Why are the assigned thinkers accorded this authority?Write a short essay summarizing the epistemological bases of your classes, linking them by emphasizing similarities and differences.
When to use the connecting exercise
“Understanding the Curriculum” could be presented as a meta-course, part of General Education program for first or second year studentsConnecting exercises could be conducted in one class per semester for each student: at midterm or at the end of the semesterConnecting writing could be part of the student’s portfolio, leading to a larger exercise situating and comparing the knowledge gleaned from four years of college





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