“The question to ask your students is not ‘Did you do the homework?’ Instead, it’s ‘How did you do the homework?’”
I heard these words this summer from Kevin Mattingly, an educator I deeply admire (and the creator of the EdX course on the Science of Learning). They struck me the minute I heard them, because they helped me to see that I had assumed that students knew how to reach texts in Philosophy or Religious Studies – an assumption that no longer strikes me as a good one.
How can we help students reflect on their own thinking? How can we make their thinking — and their learning — visible to them? These questions are at the heart of engaged teaching, and I’ve been using some resources from Harvard’s Visible Thinking Routines in an effort to help students do this work.
During a weekly faculty mindfulness group I’ve been participating in this year, a colleague mentioned that he showed the film “Into the Wild” to his students. Usually he shows this film to his 12th grade students in a class on identity, but he also showed it to his 9th graders this spring. The results, he said, were quite positive. After learning about Christopher McCandless’s story — donating his trust fund to Oxfam, cutting up his credit cards, heading to Alaska — several students wrote him inspiring emails late at night, clearly moved by this example.
Things do not end well for McCandless, of course. And while there are some parts of his life to value, it’s also an important cautionary tale. But my colleague’s comments came as I was teaching a unit on Marx, gender, and advertising and resonated with some of my experiences there.
We started a new term today. There were some great moments in the department as we all began our new courses: a colleague explaining a priori knowledge to two students in the context of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (!), which they are pursuing in an independent project. A discussion with a colleague about how to incorporate Ferguson into my course on Nonviolence this winter, with special attention to the role of religion: it can help people create narratives of hope and it can provide theological justification for the status quo. Students in class writing and talking about ideas of freedom and enchainment using Rousseau’s saying that “humans are born free but everywhere they are in chains.”
(What this title lacks in pith it makes up for in accuracy.)
Reza Aslan is a historian of religions who happens also to be a Muslim. While these two identities can lead to confusion in certain members of the media (see this interview here), those matters are not the primary focus of this post. Instead, I want to use a recent interview Aslan did with CNN to illustrate the ways in which he utilizes a cultural studies approach to Religious Studies. Continue reading →