Category Archives: Teaching

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In Defense of Theory

Is gender theory relevant to undergraduate students? Skeptics have long dismissed theory’s intellectual import largely on the basis of style. In the 90s, Gayatri Spivak, Judith Butler, and Homi Bhabha were scrutinized for their “pretentiously opaque” prose, “bad writing,” and “indecipherable jargon” respectively. Of course not all scholars are equally subject to these sorts of critiques. As Butler noted in her response, “The targets … have been restricted to scholars on the left whose work f…

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How Syllabi Can Help Combat Sexual Assault

While we deal with students primarily in the classroom, we are not insensitive to their larger struggles. As a new academic year approaches, one scourge in particular stands out: the epidemic of sexual violence on campus.  Is there anything professors can do to complement the work done by counseling centers? There is—and it involves adding only one paragraph to your syllabi.

The campus sexual-assault bill this past summer, plus the many media exposés about the campus rape crisis, have raised awa…

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Betray Our Students for Publisher’s Profit?

I recently received an email from a “consultant” inviting me to help a publisher create an automatic essay-grading technology product for humanities professors to use in introductory-level courses. The consultant claimed that once completed, the program would “accurately auto-grade brief writing assignments – 500 to 900 words.” The program, the email said, “uses specific writing prompts and rubrics to achieve computer grading accuracy.”

And how will these impressive results be achieved, you ask?…

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The Nixon Flag in My Office

On the bright morning of August 9, 1974, I stood with my parents and older brother on hot metal bleachers at El Toro Marine base, in Orange County, California. We looked up and squinted to watch Air Force One appear as a tiny speck on the horizon, grow into a full-size 707, and land on the runway in front of us.

Technically, it was no longer Air Force One. Its chief passenger, Richard M. Nixon, had officially ceased being president at noon Eastern Time, just as the plane was flying over my home …

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The Rise of the Helicopter Teacher

A week before the first paper was due, a young woman in my class raised her hand and asked where the rubric was.

Shamefaced and stuttering, I had to admit that I had no idea what a rubric was. She helpfully explained that this was a set of guidelines explaining what I expected them to write, how I expected them to write it, and how each aspect of the paper would be evaluated. A set of boxes that students could check off to guarantee that they had met my expectations. For all intents and purposes…

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Equal Rights vs. Religious Principles

Operating in a pluralistic society, America’s institutions of liberal learning have always faced a fundamental choice: to create cloistered sanctuaries from social difference, or to embrace difference as central to our teaching missions.

That choice may seem especially fraught for religiously based colleges, balanced between the demands of civil law and their desire to adhere to the principles of their religious faith. The choice played out most recently this week in the decision by the federal …

How to Reach the Underserved Third

The U.S. Department of Education recently forced Corinthian Colleges into a government-monitored wind-down of its operations and sale of viable campuses. The sale will include Heald College, the 150-year-old institution that we led for just under one year.

Unaddressed by the department action and overlooked in subsequent commentary are two fundamental and related points. First, as a society, we fail to prepare approximately one-third of our citizens—the “underserved third”—for either col…

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Why We Need an Open Curriculum

A few weeks ago, a student came to say goodbye. She brought along a younger friend, recently offered admission to my university, who was trying to decide whether to come to Brown or go to Duke. Given all that Duke could offer, the friend wondered, “Why come to Brown?”

We didn’t talk much about majors, or alumni networks, or the social atmospherics of the campus. Instead, we talked about curricula.

Duke’s general-education requirement “encourages breadth and depth, and balances structure with…

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All Knowledge Starts Somewhere in Faith

It is bracing to have my institution—Wheaton College—held up in the pages of The Chronicle as the embodiment of “The Great Accreditation Farce,” the headline on Peter Conn’s essay. Conn suggests that Wheaton and other religious colleges are “intellectually compromised institutions” that betray the intellectual standards that should mark accredited institutions of higher education. Colleges like ours, he argues, “systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education,”…

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Cursive Is an Endangered Species

hotchkiss photo

(Photo courtesy of the author)

Over the past decade or so, something big has been happening in public schools throughout the United States: Instruction in cursive writing has all but disappeared, cut from curricula as schools bring more technology (and keyboarding) into the classroom. The new Common Core Standards for education omit training in cursive handwriting altogether. Even in the few schools where cursive is still taught, the subject is often covered in one year and writing in cursive is…