You get the ankles and I'll get the wrists

Over the last couple of days I have had an interesting email correspondence with a good friend of mine that touched on a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately- the apathetic approach of students (in a college setting) to their work. He teaches religious studies at a research intensive school and has come to believe that classes in religion at the school are “service” courses, meaning they serve as an elective, but have little or no bearing on their actual education. I have gotten a very similar vibe regarding my Drawing class, at least for about half the class.

I don’t mean to badmouth my students or his, the way our culture (both academically and beyond) is set up their response and approach is to be expected. You are encouraged to specialize and reserve all of your energy and time for that specialty. Courses outside that particular area have become almost vestigial. They are remnants of the archaic ideal of a “well-rounded individual”, an ideal that conflicts with the current role of “specialized individual” we are encouraged to play.

I have never fit into that role. My interests are too diverse and frankly so are my talents. In fact, I would go so far as to say that my strongest natural talent is to see and understand connections and patterns in disparate areas. In other words, if I had a super power it would be consilience.

What does this have to do with our students? Well, to quote my friend, regarding the degradation of written assignments, the problem

rests with a pedagogy that requires students to write in a style or genre (the argumentative essay) to which they are mostly 'tone' deaf and, moreover, will likely never reproduce outside of the university essay. I think this kinda makes the task rote for many and results in a lot of contrived or forced writing.

It is the same with our courses. Our particular fields, the academic study of religion and art, are probably as divergent for them as possible. Religious studies is by nature a practice in consilience and art-making tends to require using a different part of the brain than most other disciplines. They are not in essence straight forward, but instead require the repetition of two seemingly opposing steps – the expansion of focus followed by laser-like focus upon a singular idea, then the expansion of focus to look for other like patterns, then the bringing into sharp focus again, then the expansion….In other words, they expect a fastball and are thrown a curveball. It’s no wonder most students swing and miss.

Eric in a Word: favonian

Book of the Day: Adams vs. Jefferson - John Ferling

Song of the Day: Rock Box - Run D.M.C.

Religious Figure of the Day: Saint Roch

Sketch medium: graphite, ink, and white-out on card stock


Eric Giles said...

One further thought: what the hell is a "required elective" anyway?

abigail worden said...

so there's a problem, where's the fix?

Eric Giles said...

Not sure if there's a single fix. I didn't unpack the problem all the way. Only part of it rests in the conflicting messages I briefly touched upon. Part of it also seems to be a sense of entitlement in students to pass their courses - which is reinforced by the ongoing issues of grade inflation in many univsersities. I think this topic runs deep into some of the fundamental issues that tend to arise when a society hits a stride where multiple generations grow up in relative prosperity. I think it also has roots in the rapid change of society over the past 75 years and the inability of the university system to adapt at the same pace.