Tuesday Teaching Talk: Teaching “Disinterestedness”

Last Tuesday, CAST hosted a seminar discussion ostensibly centered around a short and light essay titled, “The Uncoolness of Good Teachers,” by Mark Edmunton. We had six participants and a lively discussion that ranged over a number of interesting pedagogical issues. The conversation gave me a lot of ideas for a TTT topic, so we’ll work through a few of them in the coming weeks. For starters, we’ll take one inspired from our esteemed colleagues Judd Renken, who teaches rhetoric, speech, and philosophy, and Carrie Nepstad, who teaches childhood development and chairs our illustrious Assessment Committee.

Without further ado, here is our TTT question:

What is the importance of teaching “disinterestedness” in the classroom? Disinterestedness is a stance that is often touted as essential in being a careful and objective thinker and scholar. Many of our own professors may have criticized our undergrad paper if we demonstrated too much bias or enthusiasm for one position or another.

But to what extent is this actually possible? If it is not possible, is the requirement for disinterestedness in our students’ assignments a harmful deception? Is it a miseducation? If a graduate walks out into the world and believes they are capable of taking a disinterested stance when in fact they cannot, is it harmful for them as a thinker?

Even if disinterestedness is impossible to achieve, is it perhaps an important stance to strive to obtain in our own thinking and writing? As democratic citizens, for which willful advocacy of a particular stance is important, is it possible that too much disinterestedness is harmful?

Tuesday Teaching Talk (Thursday Edition)

Years ago, Chris Sabino as CAST director and Dave Richardson as Harold Lounge curator hosted the “Tuesday Teaching Talk,” or “TTT,” on the Harold Lounge. Now, CAST wants to resume this practice. We’ll get it back to Tuesday soon enough. 

“Because really good teaching is about not seeing the world the way that everyone else does. Teaching is about being what people are now prone to call counterintuitive, but to the teacher means simply being honest.”  -Mark Edmundson, “The Uncoolness of Good Teachers,” in Why Teach?

What do you do in the classroom that is weird, creative, risks making you look silly, but is all done in service of a lesson for your students? Is it ever a good idea to risk a professional bearing in the service of education? What strange things do you do between your four walls?

As HW faculty have seen in their e-mails, CAST is beginning a series of seminars aimed at fostering a good conversation about teaching, learning, thinking, and sharing what relevant disciplinary knowledge we have to our fellow faculty from across the disciplines. If you are interested in participating, join us this Tuesday, February 3rd, 3:30pm to 4:30pm in room 1046 at HW.

“Reacting to the Past” in the Community College: Introduction

You walk into your class a few minutes before it is scheduled to begin. To your pleasant surprise, six or seven of your students arrived sufficiently early to arrange the tables in a large half-circle, in preparation for discussion and debate. They did this without your request, but it’s exactly the formation they needed today. You also notice a large portion of the students already seated, pouring over their copies of Plato’s Republic.  Some students are wrapped in white linens, in imitation of the tunics worn in Athens, circa 403bc. One has a garland in her hair.  Rather than walking to the front of class and introducing the day’s main topics, you instead quietly take a seat in the back and pull out your own copy of The Republic, turning to the pages on the goals of an excellent education: to make good citizens first, and to give them the tools so that they may contribute to society in the way they are specially suited as individuals. Though you have not provided specific guidance, most everyone is reviewing the same pages.

The minute that class is scheduled to begin arrives and passes. Nothing has changed. You are still sitting in seat, saying nothing, unless a student approaches to ask a question about the text. Otherwise, you can clearly see your students clustered in groups about the room, speaking in hushed voices, The Republic in hand. Occasionally, a student from one corner of the room stares menacingly to another cluster. A young, petite woman raises her fist and booms, “Athens is a city of democracy! The men who fought for us have the right to participate in government!”  A young man from the opposite group retorts, “giving the rule to the mob is giving Athens over to the passions of the appetite! That’s no way to rule wisely or justly!” A commotion begins, and chaos threatens. You continue to sit in your chair, taking notes about who is saying what. Ten minutes after the scheduled class start, you, the instructor, have yet to say a word.


An Argument for Democratizing Knowledge in America

I just read a book “Back to school: Why everyone deserves a second chance at education” by Mike Rose.

Back to School book cover

The students described in this book could be my own and I find that rather refreshing in a book about higher education!

There was something really powerful about reading the words of students like mine in the pages of this small book. It reminded me that our students all have various reasons for being in our classrooms:

To be a role model for my kids. To get a career to support my daughter. I don’t want to work in a crappy job all my life. I want to learn to read and write. I want to have a better life

I teach in the Child Development program. I’ve always thought of my courses as serving both academic and occupational goals, and I have treated both goals equally. We are a career program, and yet the intellectual life of my students is extremely important to me. I want my students to experience many and varied opportunities for cognitive growth in their time here. I also have a higher responsibility to the young children my students will ultimately serve so I work hard to make sure my students understand developmentally appropriate practices in the profession of early childhood education. This book has reminded me of the importance of developing an academic intellectual life, but it has also reminded me of the intelligence of occupational work.

It’s midterm by the way, in case you haven’t noticed! This is the time in the semester when many of us lament that students are unable or seem unwilling to take advantage of the support resources available to them such as office hours, tutoring, and the like. The book helped me to remember that my personal approach to learning in terms of actively seeking information and forcing myself to take charge of my own educational experience by any means necessary can be really different from how students approach my class.

As Rose states,

Many students with privileged educational backgrounds are socialized from day one to seek out resources and engage members of institutions to help them attain their goals. This seems so much like second nature to most academics that we forget that it is a culturally influenced, learned behavior.

…teaching is more than transmitting a body of knowledge and set of skills but also involves providing entry to the knowledge and skills and tricks of the trade necessary for fuller participation in learning.

It’s a quick read, but it has inspired me to think differently about my students and my teaching. I think it’s worth a look. Let me know if you want to borrow it!

The Flipped Classroom: an experiment

Hi Harold Lounge,
I posted this to my personal blog earlier in the week and thought it might be fun to share.

Let me know what you think!

The Flipped Classroom: an experiment.

In addition to the sources mentioned in the post, I’ve also been reading “Flip your Classroom”, which has some very good suggestions.

Happy midterm!

Tuesday Teaching Talk (TTT)

Tuesday Teaching Talk is a regular feature which, as the name implies, is an opportunity to talk explicitly about teaching (and learning) in the practical and philosophical sense that happens on, you guessed it, Tuesday. Hold on to your hats.  The CAST coordinators (yes there are 2 of us) are tasked with supplying TTTs to you.  Look for questions, videos, tips, etc.  Enjoy!

Guess what?  It’s Open Education Week.


What do you think?

Tuesday Teaching Talk (TTT)

Tuesday Teaching Talk is a regular feature which, as the name implies, is an opportunity to talk explicitly about teaching (and learning) in the practical and philosophical sense that happens on, you guessed it, Tuesday. Hold on to your hats.  The CAST coordinators (yes there are 2 of us) are tasked with supplying TTTs to you.  Look for questions, videos, tips, etc.  Enjoy!

What do you think of this?