Reading Resilience

Over the past two months, I have read and outlined the primary and secondary texts for the Synthesis course on resilience I’m planning to propose and hope to teach next spring or the following fall. In Teachers as Intellectuals, Henry Giroux argues that it is the responsibility of teachers to practice a critical pedagogy that directs student attention not only to the text but also to the process of production of cultural meaning and to the politics of the educational institution (86-107). My efforts at organizing the course readings and writing assignments around the idea of the quest for a documentable past have led me to the decision to frame each of the readings with questions. In the past, I have given students the questions I want them to wrestle with and answer, but for this upper-level, capstone course, I am planning to try a new pedagogical approach. To the extent that I’ve framed the curriculum of former courses thereby implicitly shaping the questions, I realize now that my doing so in a Synthesis course may produce an enormous chasm between my hope for a natural, critical learning environment. To bridge that gap, to reach the students educationally, my goal is to find ways to link my disciplinary concerns and interests with those of the students (and their various) as a means of modeling for them that all of the answers may not be found in one discipline alone. To that end, I will be  framing some questions only as a way of inviting students to raise their own thereby capturing, hopefully, their imagination while also challenging some of their most cherished paradigms. Since my plan is to anticipate questions about resilience that will already be on the minds of the students. At the outset of the semester, I plan to ask the students, “when/where did resilience originate?” With this question, I intend to subtly shift the agenda from the issue of resilience to one of history. I want to raise questions that will help my students reason through the process of examining the complex layers that inform the characteristics and study of resilience and to think about how to answer them.

Besides my awareness of and sensitivity to students’ weighty questions about identity and resilience and my goal of promoting deep learning approaches that will help my students learn inductively, moving from fascinating and important questions to general principles of the conversant disciplines out of which our classroom engagement with the texts and each other will grow, the course readings will be structured around three five-week units. Students will meet for 80 minutes twice a week and will be required to read approximately 100 pages per week. Although the reading load is heavy, the pace fast, and the syllabus ambitious, the course objectives are achievable.

For Unit 1: Theological Revelation and Resilience, students will read The Odyssey, Inferno, the Bhagavad Gita, and the biblical stories of Joseph and Job as a means of probing the ancient roots of human resilience and reflecting on higher theological and metaphysical realities. Relative ideas about the spiritual attributes that helped people in the past master change successfully and bounce back when the tough got going as well as actions that enabled them to grow, thrive and experience higher levels of well-being will be explored through questions centered on religious revelation.

In Unit 2: Adversity and Resilience, the focus will be the inseparable connections between failure, suffering and modern concepts of grit; the role of self-examination in the journey to what psychologists call “personal hardiness”; and trans-generational attitudes toward personal responsibility. Readings will be from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Jhuma Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, Derek Walcott’s epic Omeros, and Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills.

Unit 3: Eastern Visions of Resilience will re-cast the enduring question as a means of finding out what happens to beliefs and practices when they are represented, re-imagined, and performed in ways that challenge the dominant beliefs of a culture. Students will read Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones and Tao Te Ching, a cross-cultural circuitry of texts that recount Egyptian, Zen and Chinese stages of awareness leading to fortitude and enlightenment. The possibility of the sustained study of resilience being invested with new significance is immense due in great part to the global spread of insights that work together to convey a strong message over a vast span of time. Moving persistently between local and transnational contexts, students will have many opportunities to discover the personal matrix of virtues and character that can be nourished by ongoing interaction with diverse cultures along global circuits of exchange.

The bi-weekly sessions, based primarily on the assigned readings, will involve teacher and student crafted questions as I mentioned previously. For the questions I pose, students will be given 15 minutes during our Tuesday sessions to write their responses. There will be three formal essays, the last involving research, and two exams: one midterm and a final. Both exams will be comprised of one critical essay and one close passage question taken from the texts.

Over the last decade, the revival of interest in resilience in the field of Positive Psychology, founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, has spawned widespread discussion. Some of the best insights have come from psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania who defines grit as the quality that enables individuals to work hard and stick to their long-term passions and goals. Given many students’ general familiarity with grit as a modern concept, I have reached out to Dr. Duckworth, asking her graduate students to serve possibly as consultants during the grant period and give a campus lecture, perhaps as an Experience Event, which will be well advertised, free to the public and aimed at sharing the prevailing ethos of grit that enables individuals and communities to thrive. Since I want my students to experience at least one instance of Homer in performance, I will invite members of the Curio Theatre Company in Philadelphia to campus to present a dramatization and meet with students to discuss the “grit” of theatrical performance and translation as a bonus.

My hope is that this new course will provide a forum for students, scholars, activists, and community members interested in participating in the critical conversation about resilience. I envision the ongoing development of this course in light of my evolving, multidisciplinary research on the subject. Above all, I plan to teach the course very enthusiastically for at least the next few years.

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Resilience and Ancient Greece

Less than two weeks ago, I participated in the Council for Independent Colleges’ seminar on Ancient Greece held at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC. I spent six full days reading, analyzing, writing about, and discussing Herodotus’ Histories as a means of deepening my knowledge of Greek history and myth and determining the ways in which I might be able to incorporate in my courses ancient texts that lead directly into the fundamental question that will guide my new Synthesis course: what makes us resilient?

During the seminar, I read an article by Matthew Christ entitled “Herodotean Kings and Historical Inquiry.” In it, Christ explores some of Herodotus’ motives in his accounts of the deeds (and misdeeds) of various kings and concludes that Herodotus shares with the kings he writes about a thirst for knowledge (167). Christ’s observations of the various kings’ quest for understanding as a mirror of Herodotus’ quest for knowledge (171) incited my closer examination of Book 7 of The Histories, which is a special case within the text.
Book 7 deals with Greek’s then-recent events (one would call them today “contemporary history”). The Persian Wars were a milestone in ancient Greek history, an event that divided time between “before” and “after.” Herodotus’ descriptions of events in Book 7 were well-known to his contemporaries; indeed, many eye-witnesses were still around. The blurring of the lines between Herodotus’ stories and those his contemporaries knew piqued my interest in organizing my students’ readings based on varying manifestations of storytelling and the preservation of such stories and the lessons they afford those who hear them.

Herodotus, the putative “father of history,” makes it clear in Book 7 that one of history’s roles is to teach the reader not only what happened but also what is right and what is wrong. Since Herodotus’ time, historians, while changing methods and focus, have remained constant in the belief that history has something to teach us. One cannot help but wonder if this is indeed the case and, more importantly, whether there is a common lesson about resilience one can take away from history or whether there are different lessons depending on the audiences and the various times one is exposed to such accounts of past events.

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Post 5: Last Day

What do you do on the last day of class? By that I mean the very last meeting, not necessarily “the last day of classes” which is usually the penultimate meeting. For most courses, the last meeting consists of a final exam which – whether cumulative or not – hopefully tests knowledge of everything that has been covered and relies on skills that have been practiced all semester. Is this useful?

There is a long tradition of having a final exam to round out a course. A last judgment that, like the conclusion of a novel, has been logically building since the first day and gives everyone a proper resolution to their story arc. Some succeed, some fail, some fall in between, but everyone gets a clean ending. In reality, though, this is a bit of an illusion. Learning and using knowledge isn’t supposed to stop on the last day. And anyone would have to admit that the professor benefits from this clean ending a lot more than the students, who have to actually go out – for the rest of their lives – and use the skills they’ve acquired. They don’t benefit much from a number or letter in my grade sheet, they’re judged by their ability to function in life.

Still, exams do have tremendous value despite their bad reputation. Henry Roediger III has done a tremendous amount of research in this area and found that testing encourages deep cognitive processing (critical thinking, explicit thinking, etc). It also provides students with a accurate feedback about gaps in their knowledge and improves memory significantly more than studying or thinking about the material. In fact, I frequently tell students that the best way to study, and the main method supported by memory research, is to test themselves at home. Unfortunately, most people have the idea that studying involves “going over” the material (i.e., just looking at it) until they are thoroughly bored and tired. Overall, frequent testing is one of the most effective methods for building long-term memory of course material.

That doesn’t make it fun. (Though I do teach students how to cognitively reappraise this experience to make it more enjoyable and effective, but that is beyond the scope of this blog post).

What if you really do the most testing possible? I once was a teaching assistant for a Cognitive Psychology course. The professor was young but had just earned tenure, and so he was brave enough to try this technique: The course had 10 exams, plus a midterm and final, and each exam covered ALL the material for the whole semester. So, students basically took a cumulative final every week. Perhaps not surprisingly, they were not happy with this arrangement. Also not surprisingly, grades at the beginning were very low. Over the course of the semester, however, grades improved until, at the very end, the grade distribution was comparable to any normal course. Everyone learned, despite a huge portion of the course consisting only of testing, and according to all current memory research the technique should allow them to have better memory for that material for a longer time. I’ve never tried this myself, but it is hard to deny the benefits of testing even though most students are afraid of it.

In a recent senior seminar, I did give the class an exam that I told them would not count for a grade. It was on introductory material, not things covered specifically in the seminar, but we followed all the procedures for a normal exam. When they finished we went over the results and they all saw their grade, and knew I would see their grade, even though it didn’t count for anything at all. My observation was that they treated it much like a normal exam, including all of the stress and anxiety. I see a similar thing during our senior exit exam, which also does not count toward any grade but covers material for all four years of a normal psychology education. Students worry, get very serious during the administration of the test, and leave with much the same attitude they would have for a normal final (exhausted and not particularly happy).

Having thought about this for a while, I’ve come to two conclusions. First, exams are clearly important and very useful for helping students learn and build critical thinking skills. Second, because they aren’t generally liked, they don’t necessarily need to be the last thing students remember about the course. Memory research also shows that we are bias to remember the conclusion of a story (or a course) more than the middle, and thus when someone says “what did you learn in Dr. Couchman’s class?” it would be nice if they remembered something about the material or a mind-expanding activity rather than taking an exam. Memory research ALSO shows that very little of the course content will be remembered (though skills and thinking strategies can be maintained), and therefore it seems counterproductive to emphasize facts on the last day. Instead, there ought to be a way to emphasize skills and experience in a meaningful way that will also be memorable.

A recent article in the Chronicle talks about turning the final exam into a kind of epic experience that is more like a game than a serious sit-down test. Other professors have even ditched the final exam altogether in favor of a final “event” that emphasizes the real-life applications of course concepts rather than re-hashing learned facts.

As I’ve talked about previously, my course looks at metacognition – thinking about thinking – and will focus on research skills that students need in their careers. This seems like the perfect topic to use for a kind of non-final final. I don’t know if it will be an epic experience or event, but I’ve decided students will present their research projects to the class (exactly like you would do in a real career) while also incorporating activities that demonstrate whatever mental phenomena they investigated directly to the class. This could be the method of their experiment, or a simpler demonstration to give everyone the gist of the problem they explored. The other students will participate, something that is generally exciting and memorable, but will also learn. And in many ways, having to explain your work (and the theory behind it) and answer questions from fellow students and professors is the best kind of exam.

They will be tested on all the skills that they’ll need in the future, but they will remember a crazy day of participating in fun demonstrations. With any luck, they’ll develop deep critical thinking and interpersonal skills AND look back on their time in college as an exciting thing that gave them new ideas and helped them think outside the box.

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Race, Racism and Resilience

In his April 4, 1967 speech entitled, “Beyond Vietnam,” Marin Luther King declared, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” (The full speech can be accessed here: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/

Since I will not betray myself, the memory of my ancestors or the grace and resilience of black people, I cannot and will not be silent about my very deep sadness and outrage over the recent tragic shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers in what Maya Angelou called “these yet to be United States.”

Philando Castile’s mother, in a CNN interview earlier today, explained that she always told her son to comply with the police should he ever find himself pulled over, stopped or questioned by police officers. In response to her own memory of such exchanges with her son, she asked, “What’s the point in complying if you get killed anyway?” I find her question both disconcerting and telling.

The adversity that black people in America experience, and more specifically, the trauma that Diamond Reynolds, Philando Castile’s fiance, endured while witnessing the murder of her loved one as her four year old daughter sat in the car’s back seat while exposed to the brutal violence and obscene language of the offending police officers confirms the dreadful fact that most of the stress for many black people today comes not only from mental processes–from worrying about possible racist assaults, relationships, children, mortgages, finances, Donald Trump, and more–but also from actual physical violence and emotional danger.

That a four year old girl sat in the backseat and witnessed the brutal murder of her mother’s fiance, even declaring, “Mommy, I’m scared,” makes me wonder how one’s being strong in the face of calamity has cultural value and why resilience for black people, specifically, has its roots in dehumanization. Yes, it takes determination, inner strength and resolve to survive the experience of sitting inches from a loved one who suddenly and unexpectedly becomes the victim of racist, vicious police brutality, but to what end? At what cost? Why, for black people in 2016 America, is resilience still tied to overcoming the brutality of daily, racial microaggressions and overt racism?

About the Minnesota shooting of Philando Castile, @johnnyterris tweeted, “Lavish Reynolds calm demeanor (esp in front of daughter) is something I wouldn’t been able to do if it were me. That lady is PURE STRENGTH.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/07/the-incredible-calm-of-diamond-lavish-reynolds/

For purposes of my present research and pedagogical planning, I am interested in examining closely and assigning to students readings of various stories of (extra)ordinary black men, women and children (both during slavery and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement) who have had to contend with repeated trauma with the goal of helping students make several cogent observations regarding the raw material of resilience and its evolution when blackness meets racism.

 

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Post 4: Scientific Competence

As I was putting my syllabus together it occurred to me that while I had designed the PSY 397 Advanced Lab course to build research skills, it would also be good to reflect on the higher purpose of the course. Only a tiny percentage of students want to be psychological researchers, an even smaller number want to be cognitive researchers, and it is unlikely that anyone will use the exact experimental designs I’m teaching in their future job. But, all of them will work in fields that use or rely on the principles and methods we’ll be discussing, and every single student will benefit from the critical thinking skills and broad understanding of “how things work” behind the scenes.

While thinking about this, I couldn’t help but notice that CNN was playing a report about a certain science-denying creationist building a replica (or what he believes to be a replica) of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky. Controversy has arisen because this clearly religious organization has received millions in tax breaks and free land from the government despite the fact that there is absolutely no science – nor any logic or common sense – to back up their positions. I don’t want to get too far into the details, but this person believes that the earth is about 6,000 years old, and that a 600-year-old Noah built a boat that held two members of every species for 40 days. He also requires all employees to sign a statement disavowing homosexuality, same-sex marriage, pre-marital sex, and accepting what they call a “literal” interpretation of the bible.

I’m sure anyone reading this could look up the details on their own and figure out that these claims and ideas are nonsensical and incorrect. Or could you?

After seeing the news article, and to prepare to write this blog post, I imagined I knew nothing about this issue and googled “how old is the earth”. To their credit, the search engine had – in a big box at the top – the correct age of Earth, the Milky Way, the Moon, and Mars, all accompanied by pictures, statistics, and a link to Wikipedia. But…the next two results were from creationist websites that contain a mix of incorrect information, pseudoscience, propaganda, and nonsense. In fact, of the 11 results on the first page: 4 were creationist propaganda, 3 discussed the supposed “controversy” and gave the impression there is some debate, and 4 gave the correct answer (including the box at the top and the same Wikipedia entry listed again far down the page). If I was a high school or college student or politician who was uninformed about the issue, I would certainly get the impression that there is a controversy.

This is pretty sad. How does such clearly incorrect information get so much attention? More importantly, how can this be fixed?

Without education in scientific research methods, I don’t think it is possible. Even a smart person without training in critical thinking and the scientific method would have a tough time figuring out that one position here is completely and totally incorrect. To any person who has learned the scientific method, it is perfectly obvious.

Luckily, education is mostly moving in the right direction. In this particular case the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) clearly supports the science of the age of the earth, as well as the fact of evolution, and encourages not caving to pressures to teach non-science or fallacious “arguments” against evolution. The reasoning is simple. Science starts with an idea and tries to disprove it. After trying time and time again to disprove their idea, with every possible thing you can think of, if the idea still survives then it is probably correct. Non-science starts with an idea and tries to PROVE it. It is all too easy to find or twist evidence to support a claim, and if you start off “knowing” the conclusion in advance then you will always find reasons to support your idea (even if they are wrong or silly). In fact, it is pointless to even investigate if you’re determined to have your idea work no matter the evidence. Of course, the NSTA has members who are educated in science. It is somewhat more difficult to reach people who haven’t had this education. All scientists should think about reaching those people, but in the mean time we should make sure that our students are highly proficient in the scientific method and logical reasoning so that they don’t fall victim to propaganda or pseudoscience.

And of course, it isn’t just the age of the earth or evolution. Right after the CNN story I saw a commercial for a product “made with 100% ground beef”. Now does that mean it is 100% beef – even though logic and critical thinking would suggest that there are at least spices in there that make it less than 100% beef – or does it mean something else? There is currently litigation about whether 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese is made with 100% Parmesan Cheese or if it just means the product is 100% Grated. These are smaller things, but they are examples of issues that every single person faces every day, often without even knowing it. This is not to mention the false or misleading claims from drug companies that are often loosely based on science, or that fact that I live in Pennsylvania where everything is labeled “All Natural” even though that phrase is meaningless. Only scientific competence can help people make decisions about these things that are in their best interests.

So, I suppose the conclusion is that, though there will be very advanced and technical methods in my course, the main goal will be to create liberal arts graduates who are scientifically competent and can distinguish true facts from falsehoods. My course is particularly well suited because it looks at metacognition, including your ability to reflect on your own certainty in any belief.

Finally, I would note that the actual story of Noah, and the stories in all religions, and even deceptive advertising, have great value. There are morals and themes that can be tremendously informative in many classes including my own. But, they should not be used as an excuse to “not believe” in the factual truth of science or to be critically lazy. As the Dalai Lama said of his religion, “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims”. He has even done so, moving from being intolerant of homosexuality to having a more nuanced (though still not fully correct) view based on science. And indeed, most mainstream religions accept science as fact. Unfortunately, though, too many people – some with good intentions, some with bad – simply do not have the knowledge and skills necessary to distinguish fact from bias, science from falsehood. We should do all we can to fix this, because it would in turn fix many of the issues our society faces.

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Resilience as Odyssey

I have been reading Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Gratitude, and it’s a really captivating read. I find compelling Tough’s argument that success has more to do with character and one’s having skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control than it does intelligence and high standardized test scores. His model of telling stories of children growing up in poverty, many of whom are also contending with enrollment at malfunctioning schools, neglectful parents, bad decisions, and so on (i.e., stories of children who appear to have virtually no chance to succeed), is one that I plan to emulate to the end that I can include among my Synthesis students’ assignments 15 blogs (one for each week of the semester) that reveal their reflections on the attributes and experiences that helped people in the past master change successfully and bounce back when the tough got going. Five of the blogs will focus on historical figures from the ancient past as a means of students’ probing the ancient roots of resilience; another five will highlight examinations of literary characters who show grit as self-manufactured painstakingly over time by working through problems and challenging experiences; and the last five will be stories they share of people they know who have exercised the ability to face life’s difficulties with courage and patience, never refusing to give up.

The blog assignment will be aimed at challenging my students to identify recurring qualities in the resilient people they read, think and write about as a means of creating a theoretical framework for determining the thing that changes in a person’s life and inclines him or her toward the idea of hard work and success.

In my efforts at thinking about how best to organize my students’ readings such that I can guide them most effectively into different ways of asking the question, what are the building blocks of resilience?, I have been re-reading Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, one of the course’s required texts. The idea of literary quest and its concomitant ties to resilience draws readers’ attention to its mysteries and riddles that ask to be solved. In fact, as early as page three of Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison introduces the idea of quest as inextricably linked to the devotion to duty manifested in Mr. Smith’s (the town insurance agent) farewell note in which he conveys his decision to “take off from Mercy and fly away on [his] own wings.”

The symbolism of flight elucidates Morrison’s treatment of the quest and inevitably raises the central concern that forms the novel’s basis—the search for identity and, indeed, freedom. Morrison’s portrayal of flight as the premeditated decision to escape confining circumstances turns historical fiction into more than a means of moral instruction and racial affirmation. The novel includes those intentions, of course, but it reverberates as well a rarely discussed subtext: a search for faith and the opportunity for transformation that originates in Africa and spans four generations. Such considerations will lay the groundwork for a mindful reaching back in time in an effort to clear space for open, ethical and pluralistic class discussions about what it means to find one’s own path.

As I guide the students through our exploration of Song of Solomon, my plan is to frame the novel through a series of questions about the ways in which the various members of the Dead family define human acts of fortitude and how these definitions confine or liberate their behavior and judgments. The questions we consider will lead right into the question of what makes the quest of an ordinary (wo)man possible or even extraordinary.

While the mysteries in Song of Solomon are not solved simply, they raise as many questions as they answer. That Morrison advances multiple forms of resilience manifesting as the development of self-discovery, knowledge and good character, she also presents circumstances in which resilience is exercised as a vice. It will be important for us to examine closely trans-generational attitudes toward personal responsibility while simultaneously culling textual evidence of the kind of consciousness that spawns resilience as virtue and the circumstances that result in resignation.

My personal, intellectual odyssey of organizing this new course thus far has encouraged my exploration of the ways in which cultures from around the globe (in Song of Solomon, Africa figures strongly) as well as the myriad subcultures within America’s borders have influenced American society in its efforts at surmounting seemingly unbridgeable cultural divides.

 

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What makes us resilient?

What does it mean to be resilient? What does it mean to have grit? What makes us resilient, and what is the cultural value of resilience? How does an oppressed population envision a hopeful rather than a hopeless future? How does one “come back” from personal or communal tragedy? As an African Americanist, these are questions that drive my research and teaching.

For the past two years, I have been conducting research on grit–a term used in positive psychology research circles and fitness program titles and literature. My initial research was driven by my persistent work on a twice submitted NEH Enduring Questions grant application for which I was not awarded funding, unfortunately (perhaps Paul Tough is right in his argument that the secret to success is failure!). The fundamental question with which I have been grappling is: what does it really mean to be resilient? Although the question appears simple at first glance, the answers are complex. In fact, my explorations of resilience thus far have involved my reaching back over the centuries to locate the earliest source/notation/stories of resilience.

 

In the process of that reaching back, my readings, though initially humanities-centered, led me to new encounters with influential thinkers and writers in the fields of history, philosophy, religion, and psychology, which spawned an ah-ha moment. That moment revealed to me that if my research could lead me to reach significantly beyond my expertise as a scholar and teacher, I might be able to shape my new knowledge thoughtfully and pedagogically such that I can effectively challenge and encourage junior and senior students in a Synthesis capstone course to reach significantly beyond their expertise in their various majors. The more I considered this possibility, the more interested, hopeful and committed I became, particularly since so much of my mentoring, research and teaching focus on identity, character building and the radical gestures that convey the extent to which ordinary people have persevered thereby influencing the culture, institutions, policies, and politics of our world.

 

Of great concern to today’s college students are the questions of how we define, assign value to and pull off human acts of fortitude. Such considerations inform the basis of this new course and lead directly into the supplemental questions that extend from the core inquiry. In addition to asking, what makes us resilient?, I will guide the students, at a basic level, early in the semester’s course work into a historically organized exploration of the relationship between resilience and character. To that end, we will aim to find out if there is any cultural value in resilience? Other additional questions are crucially important.

How do we “come back” from personal tragedy? How does an oppressed population envision a hopeful rather than a hopeless future? How might ancient and modern thinkers and writers contribute to readers’ development of self-discovery, knowledge and good character? These big, persistent questions imply resilience as an ethically complicated category of inquiry and form a springboard from which students can trace the historical emergence of and moral discourse on mind habits that create bridges to a better future.

 

The texts that form the focus of the proposed course readings foreground resilience and the desire to know which are of the utmost pedagogical and social value. Motivated by my desire to fill a historical gap in my existing pedagogical approaches and African American literary scholarship and to (re)energize my teaching in order to ensure a more current sense of interest among Albright students, I find exciting the opportunity to frame the class as an enduring query while simultaneously situating humanities thinkers in explicit conversation with ancient philosophers and positive psychologists. With its quest for a documentable past, the course has the distinctive potential to challenge existing paradigms and produce new explanations that will help bridge the chasm that has often ensnared even the best of my pedagogical intentions.

 

In Teachers as Intellectuals, Henry Giroux argues that it is the responsibility of teachers to practice a critical pedagogy that directs student attention not only to the text but also to the process of production of cultural meaning and to the politics of the educational institution (86-107). The texts that will form the focus of the new course readings foreground resilience and the desire to know which are of the utmost pedagogical and social value. My desire to stretch myself and be stretched beyond my own disciplinary concerns and interests while simultaneously anticipating my students’ concerns is aiding me in examining carefully the critical connections between historical eras and the formation of narrative.

 

In my subsequent blogs, I plan to detail the structure of the course along with its readings, which I believe will enhance and strengthen the newly envisioned general studies curriculum as well as the college’s Strategic Plan both of which give high priority to greater internationalization of our campus and courses.

 

 

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