Wednesday, August 20, 2008

step up to the plate

My two 101 classes are part of the Freshman Focus program, which means the 52 students in my two sections, plus the 52 students in (in this case) my pal Toria's sections all live together and take one other class together (World Civ II taught by a fellow who focuses on philosophical issues). Toria's undergrad degree was in philosophy, and I was almost a philosophy major (and thanks to Janet I got to grade philosophy of science discussions), so this grouping has really worked out well.

The three of us also firmly believe that we can expect more out of our students, and that if we push them most of them will step up (instead of fall off a cliff or something horrible like that). We're all about rising to the challenge.

That being said, we spent a good deal of time structuring our 101 (we are using the exact same syllabus and calendar) to include thought-provoking readings and movies that they can then write about in awesome ways. Since we're working with moral issues and what it means to be human, they're reading things like Daniel Dennett's "brain in a vat" piece ("Where Am I?") and watching The Matrix. Other movies on the list—we're showing eight and they only have to see four—are: Harold and Maude, Gattaca, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I ♥ Huckabees, Minority Report, The Prestige, and Wanted. Yes, the Angelina Jolie/James McAvoy assassin movie. There are at least eight moral issues we can talk about in that one, plus we just really, really, really liked it.

But the reading I'm particularly fond of came from a random Facebook status message. At the beginning of June, George Williams posted a status that said something like "Harriet McBryde Johnson has died." I didn't know who Harriet McBryde Johnson was, but knew that if George was mentioning her then she had to be important. I used teh google and found her New York Times article from 2003, Unspeakable Conversations". We're pairing it with a Peter Singer piece. I expect it will be painful, but I am also hoping for fruitful.

The course syllabus and readings are all online if anyone wants to take a look. The PDFs are password protected (highlight here: stephenson / north).