“Ignorant Schoolmasters” and Experts
Doris Sommer (Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and Department of African and African American Studies)
Freshman Seminar 64Y 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment: Limited to 12
What is the best way to teach, by guiding students guide toward discovery or by explaining what teachers know to students who should learn? The alternative answers have fueled millennial debates. One side defends facilitators who may or may not be experts in the target subject. They provide enough instruction to ignite curiosity, but no more since heavier hands can crush student initiative and instill resentment for school. The other side endorses the transfer of knowledge from teachers who master a subject, set standards, and evaluate progress. Today’s proposals innovate insofar as they recover, recombine, and rename sometimes forgotten pedagogies developed over a long durée. From a humanist perspective, the current and renewable debates about how to teach raise questions about forgetfulness, gaslighting, and about the dynamics of professionalization in education. Our seminar will consider the trail of controversies, the effects on teaching and learning, as well as opportunities to enhance current practices. Readings include both standard and neglected texts with a standing invitation to “go off on a tangent” and supplement assigned readings with student-researched materials. We start with a contemporary political philosopher who considers what is at stake for democracy in these educational debates.