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Monday, October 17, 2011

Teaching Without 18 Graduate Hours in a Subject? GASP!

"But here, it's O.K. that I don't know something. I can figure it out, and my job is to help the students do the same thing. It's very collaborative." This quote from Sarah Benson, an art history and comparative literature professor at St. John's College, refers to her experience teaching geometry at the request of her college. She begins by noting that, "There is bit if imposter syndrome." Ms. Benson was asked to teach geometry precisely because she knew very little about it. Now THAT'S placing trust in your faculty!

"As much of academia fractures into ever more specific disciplines, this tiny college still expects--in fact, requires--its professors to teach almost every subject, leveraging ignorance as much as expertise."

This article, "Seeing Value in Ignorance, College Expects Its Physicists to Teach Poetry," from the October 16 edition of The New York Times Education Edition,  truly fascinated me, particularly with the current emphasis not only in Colorado but around the county on the requirement that faculty have multiple hours or even an advanced degree in any area in which they wish to teach.

St. John's president and board apparently believe that we learn (and teach) best those things of which we are ignorant. The degree to which this college has eschewed what most of us see as the "norm" in higher education (far beyond even the concept of teaching something in which the faculty member is not degreed) is fascinating , and this article makes me wonder if these folks might have at least part of the solution to our concerns about teaching students to think critically.

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