This seems like some dated material: “So it is no surprise that colleges and universities, instead of asking faculty members to correlate what we teach and how we teach it, assume instead that each of us will figure such things out on our own.” The school I went to before has what is called a “FIG” program, and while the acronym escapes me now, the point was to get students with a common major and group them together. The idea was that if these students took the same classes together, they would be more apt to learn collectively; it also meant that professors would engage one another and try to come up with topics that would intersect showing students how all these skills, from writing to science to history and math, all related in “the real world.”

This way if the fig class was learning about the 1950’s then in my composition class I would have all the students pick ads from the 50’s to analyze, for example.

While I agree with much of what Graff is saying and while I tentatively agree with assessment, there are some problems I am having with this article; For instance, Graff says:

“In college the contradictory messages intensify with a vengeance, as students go from one teacher who insists that good reading means inferring the author’s intention to another who dismisses authorial intentions as unknowable and irrelevant; or from one teacher who believes that textual interpretations can be objectively correct or incorrect to another who smiles or rolls his or her eyes at the naïveté of such objectivism; or from one teacher who expects undergraduates to employ a rigorous analytical methodology and terminology more or less like the teacher’s own to another who thinks it sufficient if students learn to appreciate a good read in whatever relaxed way is comfortable to them.”

At what point is the student responsible for figuring this out? If this is how universities have taught, and it is this method that has led to the thinkers we have now, then is it wrong to say something IS working here?

” Students thus learn to be relativists at ten o’clock and universalists after lunch. A University of Chicago student summed it up succinctly, if crudely, when asked how he coped with the challenges of the humanities and sciences: “In humanities I B.S. In science I regurgitate.” Professors often complain about the cynicism of this student shape shifting, but such cynicism is an understandable reaction to our curricular mixed messages.” Isn’t this the point? Is a college education not the time to be immersed in a multitude of differing opinions and thoughts? Isn’t critical thinking the ability to figure this out? Studying philosophy as an undergrad, I always understood that what was thought before changes, but if I am taking a class on Eastern philosophy, then I have to understand that Buddhist believe in reincarnation, no matter if the Existentials I learned about the semester before believe in an after life or not. College is the time to realize that there are many answers to questions and many different ways to approach a problem, and college is the time to figure out which way suites you best.

Rather than “desperate rationalization” as Gaff puts it, look at what that fragmented curriculum got him: He was the president of the MLA. I feel that the following paragraphs about the high achievers seeing through the disparate courses and opinions and succeeding undermine Graff’s arguments about connecting courses. For all the reasons that Graff, himself, mentions. This is what “critical thinking” is– this is what I try to teach students about genres; this is what I teach students about reading literature (that there are all these different ways to do it and that there are all these meanings an that none are more right than the other) because this is the kind of bureaucrat b.s they are going to have to decipher when they get out into the real world. The students who don’t get this will be the mediocre employees of tomorrow, but why do we think that all our students have to leave the university as rocket scientist, doctors, lawyers, or English professors? They just need to be able to function in society and hopefully recognize bad political rhetoric and not vote for candidates with empty messages.

I am NOT saying that I disagree with what Gaff is saying and with how he wants to change universities. I completely agree with professors sharing what they are doing and coming up with ways to integrate different subjects and show the connections between disciplines; I just disagree with his reasoning as to why it should be done. I am also continually bothered with the humanities having to justify itself in this way. Why is it that the humanities has to tell society that it is useful because ‘look-at-all-these-ways-the-humanaties-connects-to-other-subject’? I have never used what I learned in pre-calculus or high school chemistry or middle school dodge ball in “the real world”- but I understand these subjects were important for getting me to think in different ways. Yet (outside of dodgeball) no one questions the validity of a business major learning the periodic table. I also worry that assesment might pressure the teacher too much and not put enough of the power in students’ hands. How can we teach students to take responsibility for their education and then turn around and blame ourselves for not connecting subjects for them?

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