Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Playing a humanist

Posted by Arjendu on September 11, 2009

This term I am teaching only in Cross-Cultural Studies, doing a first-year seminar with 15 students. I’ve taught this course twice before, but this is the first time I don’t have a physics course as well, and so I am really going to be playing a humanist all term.

Today the group that’s teaching that course (there are multiple sections) is meeting to discuss the course, and I’m trying to inhabit that mode of being, and reminding myself of the goals for this course, etc.

I’ve decided that a good first-order/spherical cow approximation to the difference between teaching physics and teaching in CCST for me has been the following: In physics I work hard at teaching students how to recognize, set up, and solve certain kinds of problems, whether using Newton or Schrodinger or with statistical mechanics, etc. The focus, it would seem, is on the solving — perhaps because the problems we attack *have* solutions.

In CCST the goals, as I see it, it to get them to recognize that a problem exists at all, that they need to examine their assumptions, look beyond their certainties, and experience the shock of displacement from their original viewpoint; and then to try to transcend this shock. In this case the focus, it would seem, is on the problematizing and not so much on the solution (probably because the problems we address don’t have solutions as such). My struggle then is to get beyond just confusing the hell out of the students because that seems too easy and incomplete.


One Response to “Playing a humanist”

  1. Bitsy said

    I think, that when talking about CCST, there is something that is, sort of a solution that you should be leading them toward, that is recognising when thing in there own behaviour are problematic or reinforced things that one might not want reinforced, and perhaps through that knowledge starting to change those behaviours.

    (Or maybe the problem as one of sheding light on society, and therefore you are focused on a solution, trying to learn how to view things in different ways. But this is from some one who never fully got what solving for some dynamic systems meant.)

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