By Glenn Moots, August 2, 2010 in Pedagogy and Teaching, Professional Development
In a previous post, we listed some of the opportunities that come from using core texts. During our Princeton workshop, Lee provided some of the challenges. These are important, too.
1. Context is important for any text. Today’s education leaves students with very little context for anything outside of their direct experience. Therefore, professors are left with the challenge of deciding how to provide intellectual and historical context and how to provide it such that it does not overwhelm the student or any intended “timeless” application of the text. Should this context be provided in a lecture? Should the introduction accompany the text itself? Should students be forced to research the relevant context for themselves? Lots of questions came up in our Summer Institute workshop.
2. Not only does any normal human being want to know “How is this relevant to me?” but millennial students have been initiated into the “cult of relevance.” How does a professor convince a student that they should care about a document written in another time and place? This becomes especially challenging if the professor (per Challenge 1 above) provides so much context that the document may appear only a product of its time and place.
3. Because core texts are challenging, students often have to struggle with even general comprehension. How should professors remedy this problem? Are there any “silver bullet” assignments for improving comprehension? After all, learning is a two-way street. How do we get students to drive down their side of the street?
4. Which core text? There are many different translations, editions, and versions. How do we decide which ones to assign? And how do we choose one core text over another?
5. How should core texts be organized for the student? Should these be organized by theme? In chronological order? By school of thought? Again, how do we balance context, interpretation, relevance, and continuity?
6. Finally, there are some disciplines that seem (more than others) to lend themselves to core texts. It’s pretty standard to use core texts in a literature or philosophy class. We’d like to see every discipline in the humanities and “social sciences” use core texts as much as possible. But we have to be realistic. Some disciplines, like economics, are organized largely by concept and these concepts are gleaned from a variety of authors. Nevertheless, there no reason that a standard textbook cannot be supplemented so as to allow students to get “to the source.”
What other challenges do you see in the use of core texts? What do you think of the challenges we’ve listed here?