Most of my professional life has been spent outside of academia and the first half of my ten years as an academic was as an adjunct. Sadly, as we know, there aren't many institutions that fund adjunct participation in conferences (though I believe that should change).
As a result, this will be a brief post!
One of the most rewarding professional associations I have is with the Association for Core Texts and Courses (ACTC). This organization is committed to promoting the teaching of, what is more colloquially referred to as, the "Great Books" - think (in no deliberate order) Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Virgil, Sophocles, The Old and New Testament, Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, Pascal, Kant, Mill, Rousseau, The Qur'an, Augustine, Montaigne, Austen, Milton, Boccaccio, Morrison, Woolf, Aeschylus and the list goes on (but you get the idea). What all of the texts in a Great Books course share is an enduring influence on the thinkers and writers who have followed them and an enduring message to all who engage with them.
A Great Books curriculum often includes the study of the art and music that flourished at the time the writers were writing their works so that students are exposed to other aesthetic expressions of responding to the big questions of our lives - "what does it mean to be human?" "how does one live a life of meaning and purpose?" "what is our relationship to the natural world?" 'how are we to seek a more just society for the common good?" These are all the questions I pose to my students in a version of a "Great Books" curriculum that I teach. We turn, together, to these ancient, medieval and modern texts for guidance in how to answer them for ourselves in our world today.
I've attended two ACTC conferences - most recently, last September in the charming cathedral town of Winchester, England (yes, I paid homage to Jane Austen's burial place within the famed Winchester Cathedral). At both conferences, I came away with the renewed belief that these texts matter - to us and to a new generation. They matter because, in one way or another, they address our most human yearning to find meaning in an often bewildering world filled with perplexing people and ineluctable instances of sorrow and loss. While not providing any set roadmap for answering our human wondering about the "big questions," the great books of our collective humanity point us toward something beyond ourselves and to a wisdom that has evolved over time, cultures and every other divide.
One of the most impressive Core Curriculum programs I have come to know through these conferences is worth sharing with you: the nearly one hundred year old Columbia University Core. Columbia is a sustaining member of the ACTC and all its many initiatives to engage institutions of higher learning with a Great Books curriculum. The Columbia Core even has its own twitter handle and you'll find interesting content filling your twitter feed if you chose to follow @ ColumbiaCore!
When I've returned from ACTC conferences, I've been fortunate enough to have a supportive and interested Department Chair and Dean who facilitate opportunities for sharing pedagogical and ideological take-aways. Mostly, these take the form of brief presentations/reports at department meetings but sometimes I've facilitated faculty workshops (such as how to conduct a Seminar-style discussion) related to my experience at a conference. More often, however, I share my enthusiasm for all I saw and heard with my closest colleagues over a meal or a coffee - I guess that's how it is for most of us.
Looking back over what I've written, it seems this post isn't very brief, after all. But, after all, there's a lot to mine from any discussion of the "Great Books" - in, or outside of, the classroom. #CCCWrite
This week in my new community of bloggers, we have been asked to reflect back on a time in our lives and consider what we know now that we wish we had known then. I've spent much of the week reflecting on this prompt - which is what I should have been doing I guess - but I couldn't decide what to write about until tonight when my daughter brought me a picture of myself taken just after I had graduated from college. She came upon it while looking through some old photos and couldn't believe her mother ever looked so young. I thought of all the many opportunities that lay ahead for the young woman in the picture and how many times she would doubt her ability or qualifications. It's taken me a long time - many years of putting off "jumping in" to a new path or to a new challenge - to realize that no one learns to swim by standing on the side of the pool. I looked up from the photo and at my daughter, who is only a couple of years older than I was then, and I said "be fearless." She has been doubting her own abilities of late and I have struggled with how to best encourage her to believe in her many real and unrealized abilities. What I hope for my daughter to know, and what I wish I had known then, is that you only find out if you can succeed at doing something by doing it and, in fact, it is in failure itself where you find out what you still need to know to change that failure into a success. Blogging is new to me but I didn't hesitate to "dive-in" when I first saw the call to join this Reflective Writing Club and I'm glad I did. If this first prompt is any indication, I'll learn quite a bit that I would have never known about blogging - or myself - if I had told myself "you don't know anything about blogging so you can't join this group." Instead, I was fearless. It's about time and never too late for any of us about anything. So, what I know now that I wish I had known that day as a recent college graduate - with a world of new and exciting possibilities ahead of her - is that being fearless is nothing to be afraid of. #CCCWrite
I've been wanting to reach out beyond my own University community to learn new strategies for using educational technology in my teaching. I was inspired by a twitter post by an educator I admire but know only through her twitter feed and website: Michelle Pacansky-Brock (@brocansky on twitter and http://brocansky.com/). When she put out a call to join a six week educational blogging project called The Reflective Writing Club, I didn't hesitate to jump in. What will follow here are the posts prompted by her questions to the online club about teaching and learning. Can't wait to read my fellow bloggers' posts and to share ideas, as I start a new semester.
I teach literature, a Great Books course in Catholic thought, and first-year writing at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. I have also taught in Dingle, Ireland (where I took the photo on this blog) and in Rome, Italy. I am interested in engaging my students through inter-active technologies and harnessing their savvy for social media for educational purposes. Come along with me on my journey of teaching and learning!