Sunday, October 12, 2008

Isn't it Strange?

Since last year, I've realized that my classes have become increasingly intertwined. By this I mean that the subject matter in most of my classes, no matter what the subject, always seems to line up.

For example, last week my senior seminar class had a discussion about narratives and how they're essential to the nature of human life. I won't go into detail here as it was a pretty lengthy and complex discussion, but it was a fascinating concept that I had never really given much thought. Later that night, as I was preparing a Blackboard online post for my History 300 class, I came upon a passage in the text I was quoting from discussing narratives. The narrative concepts discussed in the history text closely mirrored those of my seminar class from earlier that evening. I was once again surprised by how well my classes' subject matters had lined up again. That is to say, I was very well prepared for my History 300 discussion the next day. I had never thought that those two classes, a liberal arts seminar and a class about the methodology of studying history, would be entirely on the same page simultaneously.

This "lining up" trend has become increasingly common throughout my years at Dominican. I know this essentially what a college-level course of study is supposed to accomplish, but I had never really considered that my advisers would be able to perfectly sync up my classes so that everything would tie together so well, with the same exact topics being discussed in two or more very different courses in the same day or week. Sometimes this seems to happen constantly for weeks on end; it feels as if I'm in one massive course, with class periods spread out over several days, subjects and instructors, yet still I feel like I'm learning one larger concept.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a little piece I posted a few months ago in my own, mostly ignored (especially by me) pseudo-"blog."

    What’s a “Seminar” anyway?

    This is not an opportunity to spend a half-day at your local Holiday Inn getting trained on how to sell real estate. This is not a snappy powerpoint show on How to Deal with Difficult People, replete with peppy graphics and earnest poses. It’s not even “The Jesus Seminar,” a Funky group of scholars seeking “to evaluate the historical significance of every shred of evidence about Jesus from antiquity” (although that link is well worth checking out, actually).

    Now, at Dominican, we help students get better in critical reading, writing, speaking, visual literacy, foreign language, quantitative reasoning, computer applications, information literacy and research methods. We provide opportunities for students to explore philosophy, theology, history, social sciences, literature, fine arts and natural sciences. We help students develop a significant level of mastery a single major field of specialization, building toward a significant research project or creative investigation in the major. We help them get internships, jobs, and into graduate and professional schools.

    But besides all that, if you come to our school, running through your studies will be opportunities, once each year, for a different, distinctive, deep and connective sort of learning experience: the Liberal Arts and Sciences Seminars, built right into our Core Curriculum, and truly, they’re at the heart of what a college education could and should be.

    These are courses, like any others in terms of the credits toward graduation and contact hours in the classroom—but they have a distinctive purpose. They’re not primarily about academic skills or disciplinary fields of study. They’re about questions worth caring about, questions that cannot be answered completely by any one field of study, questions that demand and deserve all our knowledge, all our experience, all our fields of study, and the connections between them.

    What is the self? Who am I really and how did I get to be this way? What are the sources of and influences on personal identity? We need biologists, psychologists, economists, poets, artists, philosophers, theologians, historians, sociologists, and all the others, to help advance our thinking on this. No one field has cornered the market or given the final and only answer.

    What does it mean to live in a truly diverse and pluralistic community? What is the meaning of human work and what part does making a living play in making a life? What does it mean to be a good person, to lead a good life, and to reconcile self-interest with a broader sense of responsibility? Again, we need all our fields of study to better address these questions.

    In Seminar classes, then, we put big questions in the middle of the room. We let them work on us and interrogate us. We poke at them and try to see them from every angle we can find. We invite compelling books into the room to join us in this adventure. We compare notes, share our different lenses, incorporate things we’ve learned in other classes, and combine our insights so that, together, with our different majors and different lives and our always-multiple perspectives, we can experience a richer, fuller, deeper sense of the truth we pursue, a taste of the surplus and excess of meaning these enduring questions and others like them invite. Most of all, it’s fun, even exhilarating at times. It’s fascinating and deep. It’s the class that makes sense of all the other classes. It’s why you came to college—trust me. You may not think so now, but it’s true.

    When you graduate from college, for the rest of your life you’ll be confronted with these and other enduring questions which, if answered well, create the conditions for the possibility of a meaningful, purposeful, happy life. As an educated person with a moral compass you’ll need a broad and deep repertoire of knowledge and the wisdom it takes to apply it well. The Seminars, then, are practice sessions for the rest of your life, as you open the newspaper and wonder how to think and live in relation to the critical issues we will face, practice sessions for how you’ll reflect and act, not merely as a well-trained specialist in this or that narrow area, but as an educated person with an informed and ethically responsible personal stance, able to meet significant challenges in your personal, career, and civic life.

    This is what the world needs you to be, what it’s always needed us to be, and this is how you will find and become your own best self.

    So the Seminar is a semester-long class worth three credits, like our other classes. You will take one Seminar each year, on four different topics. But mostly, the Seminar is a metaphor for college itself and a practice session for the rest of your life.