I’ve been impressed with Gerald Graff before (see here and here). His 2008 Presidential Address to the MLA also contains some interesting food for thought (PMLA Volume 124, # 3, May 2009 pgs. 727-743).

Graff says that we professors “still think of teaching in ways that are narrowly private and individualistic, as something we do in isolated classrooms while knowing little about what our colleagues are doing in the next classroom or the next building.” I know that feeling of isolation well. I can teach exactly what I think is appropriate, but I have no way of knowing how well the class is jiving with the students’ other courses.

Graff argues that “there is reason to think that the quality of education students receive is determined as much by the curriculum’s shape as by its content.” Intuitively, this seems true to me, because the best part of my college education was a well-shaped humanities, social science, and physical science curriculum called Core. The Core professors designed the program in dialogue with one another. The lectures were given by about a dozen different faculty members and guest lecturers per semester, and all the professors of the program attended the lectures. They decided as a group which texts to include on the syllabi. Students were encouraged to connect the material of one course to that of another.

When a student complains to me about the different expectations of different teachers, I see the student’s complaint as a lack of ability to think critically, and occasionally grumble about Texas public high schools. However, as Graff points out, the students who can’t understand how to handle conflicting ideas taught in different courses need to be educated the most; they are also the students most harmed by the isolationist approach to teaching.


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