A third party, another faculty colleague, joined the discussion as follows:
WHOA--WHA? HUH? WHAT THE . . . I feel like my students must feel when they suddenly wake up in the middle of one of my classes.Blosser:
Blosser brings up an important suggestion: that most or many or some of our students just won't be able to do interdisciplinary work. Ah--interesting. This gets us straight to the issue, for me--disciplinary thinking is easier, which is of course why we do it. It's easier for the faculty as well. My logic book calls this biconditional introduction. The core is, triple-equal-sign, that which is easiest. Question is, do we want to do just what is easiest--do we want to let easinesss determine our praxis. Maybe we do--I don't know. But at a certain point in any college's history, people always say no, no more--we're moving to the next level right now, as of now, and we're not going to be a place where lower-order thinking is taken seriously. I have no idea how we are to know when we get to that point, but my inclination is always to just decide by fiat and see what happens. Or we could always ask Wayne and see whether he thinks we're ready.
Several things here, in order of least to greatest importance: (1) our entering students over the last two years are among the least prepared, least motivated, and lowest analytical abilities of any I've seen over my twenty years here. In a typical semester, no more than four or five students fail my classes. Last semester, in just two classes, nineteen students failed! I've never seen the likes of it. And we're discussing moving to the "next level"? We need better students.Colleague:
(2) My first year here I had five preps, and my compensation was insufficient to pay for medical insurance for my family (wife + 4 kids then). Things improved sufficiently that I did not have to teach summer courses or overloads for a few years. Only four years ago, I was making in the mid-to-upper 30K salary here. That's improved since Powell has come into office. But I've found over the past couple of years that the raises haven't been enough to prevent me having to take overloads and summer classes again, especially after taking over Amy's car payments and such. Two summers ago, I was teaching 5 courses to make ends meet. Now with Amy taking classes (instead of working), I'm teaching overloads during the year as well. We hardly live extravagantly. We spend $110/month on food (including both groceries and dining out).
Now, here's the deal. Since the faculty size has been significantly curtailed, our classes are bigger than ever. I have nearly 40 in both of my core classes. This is good for the college, but difficult for us. We're supposed to incorporate more writing into our courses and invest more prep time in interdiciplinary teaching, which takes even more time -- with our pay? I've been looking for ways to supplement our income outside of teaching. In short, what we're already doing is too labor intensive for too little pay. Try paying out medical insurance premiums for a family on one LR income.
To teach effectively we need more time and improved compensation (so we don't have to teach multiple overloads or spend our time seeking extra income off-campus).
(3) I'm not sure that the most effective way of "moving to the next level" is to diminish the liberal arts core (lose a philosopher, lose a historian, lose an English and a religion prof) and cobble together an "interdisciplinary" course to take care of the "humanities" requirements. I think a lot more could be done by working the core we've got, which is quite demanding (and effective) enough if we did the work. I was had legal action taken against me for failing a student, who correctly pointed out that she had earned "A's" in two other classes at LR (in history and religion). She was later diagnosed as suffering from significant mental retardation. She couldn't write an intelligible sentence, let alone a paragraph. She got the "A's" in courses where she wasn't required to write anything and requested that her profs read the test questions to her (because of some claimed disability), and she was adept at reading the implict cues in her profs' voices as to the correct answers.
I'm willing to be corrected, but there's nothing about our liberal arts curriculum that calls for a major overhaul, at least not that I can see. It's not perfect, but the curriculum we have is the result of hard-earned gains, and I would hate to see these improvements undermined. Many of the interdisciplinary sorts of things you envision, I think, is already being done in philosophy classes. This would be doubtless enriched by the sorts of conversations we might have if we could team teach with historians and English professors; and this could likely be done on a voluntary basis where class schedules permitted. But implimenting structural changes that would mandage such arrangements would seem prohibitive, given our course loads, compensation, etc.
Finally, students need to learn math, chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, history, language, literature, ethics, religion, and philosophy, do they not? You say this is the "easy" approach, while the "interdisciplinary" approach is more challenging. Yes, and no. In another sense, there is nothing "easy" about learning any of these. They take hard work. I seriously doubt whether half our students are up to it, or whether they should even be in college (trade schools may be the better alternative for many). But throwing them into a higher-order class where they're confronted with the Masters of Suspicion (Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and their stepchildren, Lacan, Derrida, Barthes, etc.), and asked to discuss the relative socio-political constitution of "knowledge" or "truth," and such, seems a little like asking them to draw conclusions from Russell's Paradox or Heisenberg's indeterminacy theories before they've mastered Euclid or Newton.
And Blosser says that "Dooyeweerd suggests that it's possible to distinguish 15 irreducible modalities of experience" and that we should not try to reduce them, which (I take it) is what he fears an interdisciplinary approach to the core would do. But this all seems undermined by the use of "aspect" as somehow similar to "modality." An aspect is a face or side of something, not a discrete whole. I have read Dooyeweerd (Is his name for sale? I'd love to have it.), but this seems like metaphor mixture to me. (Mode and aspect are different things, in linguistics, at least.)Blosser:
An interdisciplinary approach doesn't have to buy into reductionistic theories. I would never assume that, otherwise I would be afraid of philosophy, which is unavoidably interdisciplinary. Rather, I am responding to the proposition floated by one or another of you guys that there is no such thing as a "discipline," which (in my mind) suggests some confusion about the distinct subjects that are the focus of the special sciences, 'disciplines,' call them what you like. To begin with these were undifferentiated in pre-Socratic philosophy, but were well on the way to being differentiated by Aristotle, even though some subjects (like sociology) are said to be relatively recent developments.Colleague:
What is it, again, that is "undermined" by the notion of "aspect"? I don't seem to follow. How does the fact that an aspect is a "face or side" of something and not "a discrete whole" undermine anything? Yes these may be called "metaphor," if you like. But what prevents my saying that a cup of coffee (a discrete whole) has various aspects ("faces" or "sides") under which I can analyze it, each of which is irreducable to the other-- numerical, physical, chemical, historical, aesthetic, economic, etc.? Does the fact that each aspect is something distinct from the thing exhibiting it prevent it in some fashion from being a recognizable, distinct face of the thing?
... I'm still puzzled. It seems true, now, that English is cross-modal, whereas biology may be (I don't know, at all) modality-specific. Now I know that the cross-modality of English is entirely historical and contingent--it wasn't cross-modal at all even 20 years ago, and for many it still is not. It's just that English graduate departments now are cross-modal by self-definition, and so young PhDs come out not knowing any other way to think.Blosser:
I don't think we're quite on the same page here. English could never have been anything but cross-modal in the sense in which I'm talking about it. What this means is that, unlike biology, chemistry, physics, etc., which each have as their nearly exclusive focus just one dimension of things, English does not. To the extent that it focuses on the lingual (grammar, linguistics, writing, public speaking, etc.) I suppose one could say it's a science of the lingual. But it's always been much more than that. It has always included literature and poetry, which involves looking at much more than merely the lingual dimension of things, but at the multiple dimensions that present themselves in the worlds projected in literature. In that respect, I would say that English is much closer to being a general science (like philosophy) than a special science.Colleague:
I'm guessing that what you mean is something a bit different, having to do with the way English departments have opened up to the study of what might otherwise be classified as meta-philosophy or cultural analysis or something, and the reading of authors like Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Irigaray, Barthes, etc. But that is another matter, in my view.
How we got to this crossroads I don't know--I know only that it appeals to me and that it was really cross-modality that attracted my interest from the beginning, not the "discipline" of English, about which I still know and care very little. But English may one day decide it's a discipline again, as it most emphatically was and still is, by God, for my Father, who was a was a minor character in Moby Dick back in the 3rd century and who has no idea what his young psycho-deMarxionist colleagues are talking about and is determened never to find out (it's a matter of pride). And Biology may well decide that it's not really a discipline so much as an intersection of chemistry, physics, and other "sciences." It could happen, and it may already have happened--I'd be the last to find out, of course. It's all pretty arbitrary. It's not carved in stone unless we carve it there.Blosser:
It may be arbitrary to a degree how we organize our curriculum. But I don't see how there is anything arbitrary about Dooyeweerd's fifteen aspects or about how they serve as objects of study in the sciences or disciplines. These aspects are empirically testable. We can look and see for ourselves. If we think Dooyeweerd is mistaken, and 8 of his aspects can be reduced to 4, then we can try to show how. Or if we think he missed an aspect, we can try to show that too. But I doubt whether our own phenomenological analysis would yield significantly different results, though you can correct me if you think I'm mistaken.Colleague:
The pendulum swings. But what we could do, if anyone were interested (my doubly-inflected subjunctive is meant to indicate that this is a fantasy contracy to fact), is decide how we want to do things here. How do we, right here, right now, for our reasons, want to be--modality specific, cross-modal, or both, or what? Let's look at the mission statement and see which one is more in harmony therewith.Blosser:
I agree with the importance of reflecting on our teaching in light of the college mission statement, and seeing if what we're doing best conforms to its stated purposes. I'm not sure I follow what you mean when you conclude by saying "... and see which one is more in harmony therewith." Why the implicit disjunct here? Assuming you have in mind (1) the "discipline" model and (2) the "interdisciplinary" model, why either/or? In fact, how can you have one without the other? If we are exposed to different subjects, we're eventually going to begin asking how (and perhaps seeing how) they are interrelated. And how can interdisciplinary approaches (such as we have in philosophy of art, history of philosophy, philosophy of religion, sociology of knowledge, psychology of religion, etc.) proceed without acquaintance with the different approaches they endeavor to relate?Colleague:
Or, we could rewrite the mission statement, emphasizing not the whole person and the spirit, etc., but modal specific bunkers and silos. Which would be hilarious fun. (I want a silo, if I have a choice, but I suppose the Business school will get to choose first and choose thousand of dollars worth of high-end furniture, etc.)Blosser:
Perhaps we need to think about how to implement the mission statement we've got. I've always been concerned about discrepancy between word and deed at this college. My argument has been that it has to begin closing the gap, either practicing what it preaches, or changing what it preaches to fit its practice. I doubt whether there are many professors here anymore who give much mental space to the Christian mission of the college, let alone understand what it might mean to teach sociology or psychology or history from a Christian perspective. I doubt most faculty believe it's even possible to have a Christian understanding of their subjects any more than there could be a Christian way of, say, opening a door, and that they assume Christianity is the thin residue of piety that remains in the form of prayer before faculty assemblies, commencement addresses, and football games. The case is not too different, in my view, with the liberal arts commitment expressed in the mission statement. I doubt whether there is one member of the board of trustees who could, if asked, produce an intelligible description of what he holds in trust in terms of institutional purpose. Given these facts, the most convenient way of achieving integrity vis-a-vis the mission statement might be to write the liberal arts and Christian commitments out of it.Colleague:
Finally, I'm not really convinced that interdisciplinary work should properly come in the junior year, after people are grounded in the disciplines and punishments. Better there than nowhere, of course, but Custer's such a crusty curmudgeon--I'm with the radical Ratke, who wants to get people started with it right away. My reason is that there is no better grounding in the disciplines than interdisciplinary (interpunishmentary?) inquiry.Blosser:
I would argue that our students already have an interdisciplinary core requirement: philosophy. In philosophy we analyze everything: the nature of "nature," "knowledge," "truth," "reality," "good," "beauty," "justice," "history," "time," etc., etc. To repeat something I said in an earlier email to Custer, this makes me think that you guys missed your calling in life-- that you really want to do what I'm doing -- teach philosophy -- and you're just jealous. So then, why don't you just do the opposite of what Richard Rorty did at Princeton, quit the English department (or history, in Custer's case), and come on over to Philosophy? We'd love to have you! I doubt you'll achieve what you want by trying to deny that distinct disciplines (with their respective subjects) exist, or by trying to re-define them into something they're not, or by re-arranging them in such a way that permits professors of English, history, sociology, or psychology to spend all their time talking about philosophical questions.