Ross Douthat writes that when he was an undergraduate at Harvard University “our so-called ‘core’ curriculum promised to teach us ‘approaches to knowledge’ rather than the thing itself.”
It was, and remains, an insane view for humanists to take, a unilateral disarmament in the contest for student hearts and minds; no other discipline promises to teach only a style of thinking and not some essential substance.
(Ross Douthat, “The Academic Apocalypse,” NYTimes, 1-11-19)
As a failed teacher I’ve found that some of the best pointers on teaching issue from the armchairs of non-teachers. It’s tempting to invert the sardonic old dig to: “Those who can’t teach it do it.”
I once taught Spanish in a humanities division. Our medley of disciplines — foreign languages, art, English, music, history, theater — competed to fulfill the humanities component of students’ degree plans.
I finally dropped out of academia, before being thrown out, and went into advertising. My own insufficiency and creeping disengagement had defeated me. I could not give undergraduates a good reason to meet my Spanish class twice a week.
I had made one belated grasp for “substance” in an effort to make Spanish look relevant to elective shoppers: Translation! My overture to slant teaching in that direction was batted away by the senior ranks.
As it happened, I had a profitable side-hustle as a translator for off-shoring industries. My obsession with George Steiner’s “After Babel” did not keep my bid to align my classroom and research activities from looking non-cynical to my tenured colleagues. They didn’t buy it, or me.
(c) 2020 JMN