Spring 2017 Dean’s Seminar in the Craft of Teaching with Alum of the Year John Corrigan

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AARON HOLLANDER: We’ll
go ahead and get started. Thanks very much. We have a slightly truncated
e-seminar today, because of the alumni council meeting. So we’ll get right going. I’m Aaron Hollander. I’m the program coordinator of
the Craft of Teaching program. A very warm welcome to
our guest and alumni council in the back
of the of the union. It’s a pleasure as
always to have you here for the Spring Dean’s
Seminar with our alum of the year, John Corrigan. To those of you who haven’t been
before to a Craft of Teaching session, to Craft of Teaching
Divinity School’s, pioneering and cutting edge program
in pedagogical development for our graduate students. The Dean Seminars are
our flagship program, where we invite
distinguished alumni in a range of fields
and institutions, to bring their insights
back to Swift Hall. And to lead a seminar on some
sort of problem or challenge in pedagogy that animated them
and the teaching that their doing at their institution. The general themes
of these seminars are institutional
context reflecting the Craft of Teaching commitment
that all teaching is inherently local, functioning
within particular context or particular students. Course design is
a central theme, and we’ve asked Dr. Corrigan
to share one of his syllabi with us. And leadership and
higher education. With the understanding that
all of our distinguished alumni are in some way leaders both
for their communities and models to their students. So a very warm welcome to all. If you’re a student
and you want Craft of Teaching credit, which
I very much hope you do, please sign in. Lunches, looks like
everyone is settled. There’s coffee, feel free
to get it at anytime. And only very quick
announcements. We have a rich remaining
schedule of Craft of Teaching programs. But that’s on teaching
online and incorporating digital technologies
into classrooms. Events on charitable reading
and building students’ comments into something more productive. And on– what’s our last event? On starting a career,
a teaching career and constructive
settings in particular. The first of several events over
the course of the next couple of years, reflecting
the very traditions of Swift Hall in it’s
disciplinary foci. I also want to call
your attention again, to the Craft and Teaching blog,
which over the last couple years has invited early
career alumni to participate in a conversation connecting
the programming on-site here in Swift Hall with
their own teaching, their own challenges. This quarter, as we did
very successfully last year, our cohort of
alumni bloggers are engaging with Professor
Corrigan’s work in looking at emotion and
extending some of his analyses into the realms of
their own pedagogy. So I encourage
you to take a look at the Craft of Teaching blog. It’s craftofteachingr
eligion.wordpress.com. Only one of those
reflections if up so far, but we have another
one going up next week and throughout the quarter. So I’ll hand things
over to Dean Rosengarten to introduce our
guest, and then I expect we may–
would like people to go around and
introduce themselves. RICHARD ROSENGARTEN: Why don’t
we go around and then I’ll– AARON HOLLANDER: Let’s do that. RICHARD ROSENGARTEN: Is that OK? AARON HOLLANDER: Introduce
ourselves and finish up– RICHARD ROSENGARTEN:
That all right? AARON HOLLANDER: Absolutely. RICHARD ROSENGARTEN:
I’m Rick Rosengarten. And I think I’m the only person
in the room who knows everyone in it, which is why
it’s crazy to be dean. But I’m not going to
take a lot more time, because I want to get our
guest of honor talking to you and you in
conversation with him. I had the chance to introduce
John Corrigan this afternoon. I do want to draw a
quick analogy, which I’ll develop more later. Which is an inducement
I know all of you, since you love hearing me
speak about [INAUDIBLE] to come to this lecture. You may know, if you
follow sports these days, there’s been a lot of talk about
triple-doubles in basketball. And Russell Westbrook
recently just finished a season in which he
averaged a triple-double. And he’s only the second player
in the history of the game to do that after
Oscar Robertson. In the academy, we have
triples too teaching, research, and service. And I think it would be fair
to say that most faculty members, and I would
include myself in this, do not excel in all three, but
they do one or two of them well and are allowed to
get by as a result. Our guest today
is someone who is the Russell Westbrook of these. [LAUGHTER] He is an exceptional
scholar, a superb teacher, and a man who knows how to
build departments and work with state-funded
universities to promote the study of religion. That’s a pretty mean
combination in my opinion. I will also say that he knows
how to build fireplaces. And he has [INAUDIBLE]– every student should note that,
and is just a wonderful person. John was finishing his
PhD when I came here and he is an unfailingly
generous and funny and friendly guy. And I couldn’t be more
pleased to welcome him back to Swift Hall. Welcome back. JOHN CORRIGAN: Oh, thanks. [APPLAUSE] That’s very nice. I don’t know how many
of you [INAUDIBLE] but I’ll give it a shot. It’s a great honor to be here. I’m really looking forward to
having this discussion with you today. Can you hear me OK? And I think the
best place to start is to begin to
tell you something about my interesting in
teaching and maybe something about the people that I teach. The oddity of this
event in someways is that I’ve never
written about pedagogy. I don’t think I’ve ever given
a seminar on pedagogy before. I don’t think if you were to
quickly survey my profile that is represented in my vitae you
would think of me as somebody who has made a kind of
central part of his career. But I do say that I’ve had
a great many conversations about teaching. And teaching graduate students,
in a certain sort of way, is always a problem to keeping
you on your toes about teaching and helping you figure out what
the better way to do it is. Because particularly
where I teach now, we operate on a
kind of tentative assistantship/apprenticeship
system. Through which graduate
students by degrees are led through different
parts of the teaching life. And given a way to understand
it, some tools to work with, some experience, so that
eventually by the time they get a little bit further
along in their programs, they can teach their own class. My ideas about
teaching, in part, are formed by the
conversations I’ve had with a lot of
graduate students. Those conversations
tend to remind me about the things that were
always difficult for me to put together when I
first began teaching. But also of course, there’s my
own experience of teaching over a lot of years in
different institutions and I have some
fairly systematic ways of thinking about what
makes good teaching and what doesn’t make
such good teaching. So let’s see if maybe
some of my [INAUDIBLE] will be useful for you today. I’ll begin by saying
something about the students that I teach. So I teach at Florida
State University, which is a large state institution. There’s 42,000 students. The students are– the
students I have in this course that I passed out this
syllabus for, if you managed to see it online or see
it now, are basically first-year students. This is an honor
section, which means these are students who are a
little bit higher achievers than the other
students in the class that they entered with,
the freshmen class. Look for the most
part, if there’s a good example of the
kind of students you have and kind of the expectations
that all of us have when we teach first
year students. The university– the
recent entering class of freshmen at the university,
like the ones over the last 15 years since I’ve been
there, is a strong class. They average around 1,300 on
their SATs and they arrive with 4.1’s, I think– the
president told us last week– GPAs. So they’re pretty strong
as a class generally, but these are students who are
just a little bit above that. I just mention that to give
you an idea of how I pitch this and what I can
expect of students with those kinds
of capabilities. OK. So I love to teach
first-year students. There are a lot of years
that I didn’t teach anything but graduate students. I was chair at my
department for six years and I was chair at another
university for a while. And because of the
reduced teaching load, it came with that. And also, because what we
actually need in my department, for a long time I taught
only graduate students. But I began my
teaching career– when I finished my
dissertation, I started at the University of Virginia
as an assistant professor. And I began my teaching career
teaching gigantic lecture sections in these big
wrap back auditoriums that would fill up with
300 or 350 students. And I think in part, that
framed one of my approaches. At least the way in which
I constructed a persona in front of the
class in order to get across the kind of things I
think I need to get across. So my first experiences
in teaching really, were experiences in which I
had to be a little bit bigger in life. And jump around a
little bit more, wave my arms a little bit more,
repeat things a little bit more, modulate my voice in
a much more practiced way than I think is my inclination. But I liked it. I liked it a lot. I liked it partly, because when
you get first-year students, even if you get them in
a big setting like that, you get kids who most of
them were among the smartest kids in their high
school, they haven’t been beaten down
my the system yet, they all have
wonderful questions, they all believe that they
have something to contribute. And the trick of a
large class like that is more a matter of trying
to reign in the discussion rather than prod them. The courses I’m teaching
lately tend to be much smaller. The first-year
honors classes tend to be 18 or 19 students,
something like that. And so, what we’re going to
talk about today, building of off this syllabus, has to
do with the smaller classes and how you construct a
little bit differently with larger classes. There’s different
kinds of goals I think, for introductory level courses. I teach courses mostly in
American religious history, but I teach a lot of method
and theory courses as well. And I teach occasionally courses
in European religious history. But in thinking about what
I want out of the course, it always seems
to me to come back to several interrelated
goals about that. One is I want
students of course, to learn something about
the subject matter. But I also want them to be able
to learn to read critically. I’m talking now about first-year
students, entering students. I want to team them how to read
critically as much as possible and I want to teach them how
to write about what they read. But I want to do
all of that again, within the framework
of the set of themes or set of topics that
I assemble to them as the matrix of the course. Everything has to be within
the context of what we’re talking about when we meet
in class two days a week or three days a week. So reading, writing, and
talking about the lecture material, all for me, ought to
be interconnected in some way so that each reinforces
the other and each advances the other. But I guess the
key to all of this is typically in undergraduate
courses is the writing. Writing forms the
centerpiece around which a lot of the rest
of this stuff orbit. Even my lectures,
which are chock full of information
and perspective and sometimes attitude are
second in some sort of ways, although intertwined,
second to the writing. The writing is what
really matters, right? And the writing is– you know, it’s not like pulling
teeth to get students to write, as it was when I started
teaching in the early 1980s. Students arrive now, at
least at the institutions I’ve been at recently, pretty
well prepared to write. Surprisingly so sometimes. This last course
I taught, you’re looking at the
syllabus, last fall. Out of 18 students, the three
best writers in the class were all physics majors. Not quite sure how to add
that up, other than to say, I was a scientist when I
started as an undergraduate so maybe there is a connection. I’ve also heard a rumor,
it might be true or not. But the math part
of the SATs Yes is a better predictor
of your capabilities to succeed as a writer
than it is capabilities to succeed as someone who wants
to move on to complicated math. Well, that be as it may,
writing is something that they’re a little
more comfortable with than perhaps students
were 20 or 25 years ago. But writing is
still a challenge. And writing is a
challenge in part, because before that there’s
a kind of mysterious element to it, right? Any fact really, is a mysterious
element for me to write. And probably for everybody in
this room who has ever sat down and written. When I sit down and write a
book, I always kind of wonder, how am I going to
write about this? What kind of voice
am I going to take? What kind of data
do I really need? Who’s my audience? Right? Do I want to write
long paragraphs with long sentences
or short paragraphs with short sentences? Again, what’s the voice? Right? Do I want to be a
[INAUDIBLE] wizard? Do I want to have some kind
of sensibility that suggests I’m part of what I write? How exactly do you
puzzle all of that out in such a way as to get
across what you’re passionate about in the subject
matter but at the same time make it possible for people
who are unlike you to read the book or the article or
whatever it is to make sense. So they might be good
writers, you know, based on their
bubble test scores and some other sorts of things. But they still,
I think, approach writing as something that’s
a little bit daunting. Just as I do, and just
as my graduate students writing dissertations remind me
all the time, just as they do. Anybody who has ever
supervised a master’s thesis or a dissertation
knows that they can go through a lot of drafts,
or at least parts of them can go through a lot of
drafts as people figure out exactly what it is
they’re supposed to do. So writing is very
important and I want to teach them something
about tone and approach and precision, how to remain
open-ended but still be able to say something. All of those kinds of
things, what data to use. And to talk about it as
something that is mysterious and it’s going to always
remain a little bit mysterious. Right? I don’t want to
disabuse them the notion that there’s something
wonderful about writing in the sense of being wondrous. But I also want to give them
the sense that it’s magical and the systematic
approach you can take, the things you can do
to help with writing. So my approach to
trying to demystify some of the [INAUDIBLE],,
while at the same time leading them empowered enough
to experience it wondrously is to focus on two things. I focus basically, as
I’m assembling the course and figuring out how I want to
put all this stuff together. I focus on voice and form. And by form I mean,
basically rules. I want them to understand that
there are such things as rules of writing. And none of this is
rocket surgery, all of it is pretty straightforward. And I set it up that
way on purpose, right? I want to give them
the sense that there’s something mysterious and
wondrous about writing, but also something
simple about it. And the way to get across that
idea that something is simple is to just make up
a list of 20 rules that I expect them to
follow when they write. And it’s in some ways
I think, possible for me in doing so
to create a kind of comfortable space for them
to think about their writing within. I think rules can be
liberating as much as they can be constricting. And I want them
to feel that once you embrace a certain
form, once you understand some of the rules of writing,
even as simple as how you put a comma between two consonants. You know, that if you understand
something about the rules then you’re able
to move forward. So I play a little slight
of hand to be honest. So there’s some trick really
involved in all of this, to say that learn these 20 rules
then you’ll be able to write. Right? I think partly that’s
true, but partly also, it’s a way of getting into
their head in such a way as to be able to get
them to think about how they can learn these rules. They can follow
them and they’ll be free to do other
sorts of things. So I include this at the
end of the syllabus, my 20 rules, which are things like– well, we can just look at a
couple of them real quickly. Things like the title on
the top of your essay. Don’t split your infinitive,
don’t use passive, don’t have anything
with prepositions, all that sort of thing. Get rid of all the weasel
words like it seems to me that, or I feel that, or
sometimes I think that, or all that kind of stuff. Say it directly, have a
strong voice, all of that. Use strong verbs is
probably– the biggest thing that I talk about is
go over your essay before you turn it in. On every page, change
at least one verb, possibly two verbs to be
able to use stronger verbs and get rid of some of the
prepositional constructions that ordinarily need
with a weak verb. But make it look
like– make sure that you use
punctuation correctly, all that sort of thing. I go over these
carefully with them, but I go over them once at
the very beginning of class and it’s up to them. Right? When the papers come
in any mistakes that are made in violation
of these 20 points immediately leads to points off. Just three or four of these,
basically you take an A paper down to a C already. And it gets harder
as the term goes on. So I use this kind
of emphasis upon form partly as a way of
reinforcing for them some of the things that they
should have known already when they come into class. But also, I say is a
way of reorienting them to their writing so that they
feel more confident about what they can do. The second thing is about voice. And I stress voice because,
as everyone who has ever taught first-year
students knows, one of the most common
questions two days before the first paper is due
is do you want our own thoughts. Right? And there is a fine line between
getting their own thoughts and getting their own
thoughts about the material. [LAUGHTER] So the trick is to get
them to believe that I want to know their thoughts. But of course, at
the same time, help them understand that I want
them to think critically about what’s going on and
digest it, and give it to me. The idea here is that they need
to have a strong clear voice about what they’re
writing and they need to do it in such a way
that they can embody some of their own perspectives
and their own attitude about whatever it is that
they’re trying to explain. But at the same time,
you have to do it so that it’s not just a kind of
run-on and questionistic sort of essay. Everybody gets this. I call it [INAUDIBLE]. Other people have other
ways to describe this. And I think it’s crucially
important for them to appreciate how
necessary this is. Some of them, you
know– everybody who can talk with their
students will recognize this. Sometimes they’re very shy. Sometimes they can be very
smart about what they’ve read. They talk great in class when
you call on them, they’re very critical, they’re engaged. All of that. But they just have a shyness
about putting it in writing. You know, there’s [INAUDIBLE]
there about being able to say– instead of saying
something like, well, I feel like the primary
character in this book is difficult to– blah,
blah, blah– whatever it is. Just say, I didn’t
believe the character. Or I didn’t believe this
claim that the author made, or whatever it is. To get them to say that
is really important. It requires some prompting. So what I want to do is I want
to talk to them about form, about the rules, and how the
rules are a refuge for them, and a point of safety as
well, and as something that maybe can liberate them. But at the same
time, talk about what voice is a really
important trick that they have to learn as
they move on to writing. Now the voice of
course, has something to do with the subject
matter, the subject matter has a lot to do with
the way I teach it. So none of this reading
of books or writing really can be talked
about in absent of [LATIN] Or in– can I use Latin? RICHARD ROSENGARTEN: Go for it. JOHN CORRIGAN: –in the absence
of the material of the course. So I always make sure
that I set them up to be able to think in a
number of different ways about the material
when they read it. So typically what
I’ll do is I’ll have a course like this
with four or five books that they have to
read, all of which will be really closely linked
to the lectures and the class discussion. Right? So right away, I’m
going to try and build an intellectual framework for
them to engage the writing. And my first goal of
the course, really isn’t giving them a kind of
survey knowledge of religion in America. It’s giving them an opportunity
to drill four or five deep wells into American
religious history and learn something
about it from that, from those kind of
very focused topics that I use in my syllabus. I choose book that
are different genres. So I always include a novel. In this particular
incarnation of this course, it was The Rise
of David Levinsky. I always have a kind
of textbook type book. This was this
documentary history of intolerance in America that
myself and Lynn Neal wrote. I included a kind of
focused monograph. A monograph some of you
might know on Walmart and American religion. And then I include a kind
of larger chronologically expansive monographic writing. This was on religion and race. It’s a brand new– great
book just hot off the press. But you can look at it in
the paper, in the syllabus. So sometimes I also
include, depending what term it is, because some
terms are longer than others, I can include the
reduction of the Indies. So Destruction of the Indies. A book by Las Casas about
the so-called Black Legend of Spanish in the Caribbean
in New Spain in the 16th to 17th century. So kind of hair curling–
some people here, for sure, have read–
kind of hair-curling, a very disturbing
set of observations that he makes about the way
which the Spanish oppressed the Indians in North America. But it’s a good source– it’s a great source book,
because it’s so over the top– and you’ve seen this before. He’s so over the top in
describing what the Spanish do that he had to back
up a little bit because everyone’s
immediately sympathetic to the harsh treatment
given the Native Americans by the Spanish. But we also think
had to figure out about how– there’s some
agenda to this book that has to be smoked out in
order to understand how it’s a piece of source writing. It can’t be read naively. It has to be read critically. So sometimes I can
do what I want. So different kinds
of genres I guess is the simple
thing that I’d like them to come to terms with. So we look at different
sorts of genres and then we always spend
about two weeks talking about the parts of American
religious history that have something to do with
whatever that book is about. So if we’re writing about
this great book about Walmart, I spend two weeks,
sometimes a little bit more, just talking about
what’s the relation between economic ideologies,
capitalism, liberalism, and religion in America. Give some historical
examples of that. Raise critical
questions on time about what do we see when
we look at something like, in this particular
case, Walmart, or any number of other sorts of things. Washington DC,
[INAUDIBLE] might be. But to try to give lots of
historically framed examples of all these thing have
to do with each other. And we go on and talk about
the other stuff, whatever it might be. We spend a lot of time
talking about immigration. Typically about Jewish
immigration to America and consequences of that. Or intolerance of Jews, but
also for particular paths that Jewish
religious groups take as they develop in America. All of this, we
can talk about this since we’re having a
conversation at the moment. But I always try and frame the
reading as much as possible so that they have someplace
to stand as they read. I don’t want them to just jump
in and read The Rise of David Levinksy without
understand a whole lot about Jewish immigration. And I learned this by
degrees through the years. When I first started
teaching this book a long time ago
in the early 1980s at the University of Virginia. What I discovered was if I
didn’t get enough background, I’d basically get
a lot of reviews that talked about the
romantic relationships between the characters in
the Rise of David Levinsky. And why one guys
was no good and wise why some woman was no good. And why some guy was a saint,
some woman was an angel. I got much more discussion
about the things that I cared nothing
about in the book. Zero discussion about
what I really cared about. So and I still had to
tell them that, actually. Again, just as a footnote
to what I’m saying. Some of these students
come into class with a writing
background that’s been forged in literature classes. So they still think
writing about a book means starting out by saying,
I didn’t really like the style. [LAUGHTER] So in
my class, they’re not allowed to say that. That’s grounds, basically, for
an instant demotion to a B. They can’t write about
the style at all. But about the characters
when you read a novel, they’re so much
inclined because they’ve been trained that way to engage
the characters like that. I steer them away
from that stuff. Even the characters in
history books, and I just steer them away from that. So I try to frame
all this stuff. I give them perspective
on the reading. And then we– they write
the stuff, they bring it in, we spend a day,
sometimes two days, talking about what they wrote. People are prepared to
defend their claims. Everybody has a chance to talk. I have the TAs, who
I sit down with me to go through what’s right
and wrong about the papers. Give them back to them and
then we start a new cycle. So each cycle is basically
four or five books [INAUDIBLE].. The upside about all of this
is for me, it’s down to– I wouldn’t say it’s down
to a science at this point, it’s down to a pretty
habitual practice for me. The up side for
me is that I think they’ve learned a lot
more about two things. One, writing, but
also the material. I think they get a
kind of ownership of the material in
a way they might not get if I were to
just say, lecture to them, leading a discussion
session every once in a while. They buy in. They have to buy
in, because I force them to take a stance
in their writing and take a strong voice
interpreting the books. They buy in, in a
way that I think get them connected to the
material in a way that, at least based upon my early
teaching experiences many years ago, I don’t think they’d get. So they learn something more I
think, in a deeper sort of way, about the course material of
American religious history. But I think they also learn
something about writing. I think their writing improves. I think they do experience
kind of a demystification of their writing to
a certain extent, or writing period
to a certain extent. And they develop style. They even develop style, so they
certainly find their voices, most of them. But they have to
figure out how they can be a little bit
more elegant sometimes. How using a better
verb always helps. Sometimes using a
really simple verb is better than using
absquatulate instead of stop. [LAUGHTER] There can be all kinds
of different things that they learn going
this way or that way. Anyhow, I’m going
on way to much, more than I thought I would
to start on this discussion. But the last thing
I’ll say about this is that if you looked
at my syllabus, one of the things that I’ve
discovered in recent years is useful for me to be able
to incorporate clickers into my class. It’s a very simple thing to do. And it’s very useful for me. I’ve used it in almost all
of my classes, almost all of my undergraduate classes. One thing that’s
good about them is that it’s a way to keep
track of attendance, if you have an attendance
marker for a part of your grade. It’s easy to keep track. But it also makes
them come to class. It just makes them
come to class. It’s no great
consequences in my classes if you miss things
because of absence. But I think there’s kind of
an impulse that develops, I’d better come to
click on the clicker. But I give quiz often times
I’ll give a one-question quiz. Sometimes I’ll just stop right
in the middle of lecture, and I’ll have a
preprepared slide that I’ll put on the
board and it’s something to do with the lecture. And given them a pop quiz. To see if– it’s
just one question. I just put it on the slide. They turn on their clickers. They push A, B, C, D, or E.
It instantly registers, goes in there as a permanent
file– the students’ permanent record– goes
under permanent record in my electronic file. And it also is a way to
teach them about something. Sometimes the questions
are a little bit harder, sometimes they’re a
little bit easier. I’ve also used
clickers, if I get to a point in the course
in the lecture that day or the discussion that day,
or if we want to have a vote, and it might be a
vote about something that not everybody wants
to raise their hand about. I can ask them, what
do you think about it? Is this the same– does this
go against the First Amendment? All that kind of stuff. And I can say, listen, we
talked about this, right? So you can just quickly
turn on your machine. Everybody who thinks
yes, push A. Everybody who thinks no, push be. And we looked at it,
and although there might have been five people
talking, all who were yes. The vote might come up and
it might be 15 people no. And five people yes. And then we have
to deal with that. Right? And then a lot of
times people who were unlikely to talk in
class feel a little bit more empowered to bring up
their own perspective on it and talk about it in class. That’s a useful thing. Again, it’s a trickery,
a certain sort of technological sort. But it’s useful I think, to
sometimes get people engaged in talking about things
they might not have wanted to talk about before. And sometimes it’s
useful for me too. I can ask questions
and kind of recalibrate what I’m saying based upon
the answers that I get, those kinds of
clicker responses. The classes are
instructing, just as I do. So I’ve found that to be useful. And that can be incorporated
in just about any course. But that’s an overview of my
teaching philosophy, which is really to glamorize my
thoughts about teaching, with all the philosophy,
as I’ve never written anything about pedagogy before. But maybe it’s a
point of departure for some other discussion you
have now about your experiences and maybe some insights
that would be useful for me. RICHARD ROSENGARTEN: Thanks. The floor’s open. AARON HOLLANDER: About
45 minutes of discussion. AUDIENCE: Since I’m
scheduled to teach Las Cases in a course on
liberation and theology in the fall. And this has been the fourth
or fifth time I’ve used it. Do you have an exercise to help
them engage it more critically than naively or romantically,
and I feel sorry for the poor ladies? [LAUGHTER] JOHN CORRIGAN: Well, what
I do is I try and tell them something about the way
in which Las Cases wanted to make themselves more visible
as an advocate for the Indians and how there’s a
kind of exaggeration across the story
with that in mind. I also say that, you
know, all of this stuff, whether it’s Las Casas
or other kinds of source writings from the time,
have to be understood as, in some ways, duplicated in the
Black Legend of the Spanish. Black legend basically being,
I think in my way of thinking, construct of the Dutch to try
to shed a bad light on Spain when they were at
war with Spain. So it was trying to talk about
how awful the Spanish are when they colonize the
Americas or anyplace else. And it rings I
think, with students. They kind of get that
there’s a larger discourse of contestation involved in the
writing that Las Casas does. I hope that helps. AUDIENCE: I just wondered
if there was something that, you know– a series of questions
that you have that help them to move beyond some
of the exaggerated numbers that appear in the– those
that have been decimated. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Well, I refer to others. Like contemporaneous writings. [INAUDIBLE] as a counterpart. Where he talks about
the Indians in a, you know, in a very different
way than Las Casas does. I use those two to push
off against the other, try to figure out
what’s in the middle. AUDIENCE: Do you have any
sense of what imprint is? That your mode of teaching
is on your students? Is there anyway of tracking
what kind of impact this style of teaching
has for the rest of their career in college? JOHN CORRIGAN: No. I mean, the only
idea I have about how the effects on this one eval
scores that I get from students at the end of the term. And I keep in touch
with some of them to talk to them occasionally. But no, there’s no
systematic assessment of this particular
way of approaching it. AUDIENCE: But are
there themes that come up in terms
of what they say to you they’re appreciate of
after these years of being out there. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Yeah, there actually are. They love the themes of
the course, actually. Everybody likes them. Partly because when they learned
about religion in America in their AP course, in
their AP history course, or whatever it was. These topics never came up. People didn’t talk
about, you know, make a big deal out of race and
ethnicity, or economics, or emotions, the think
that I write about. Or some certain kind
of spacial experience. It’s something that I pay
attention to in my course. Or other kinds of things,
we didn’t get into that. It’s all about Jonathan
Edwards, and then there was [INAUDIBLE] and then
there was [INAUDIBLE].. And then, oh, yeah, some
Catholics and Jews in there. And then there was
basically Jonestown. [LAUGHTER] That’s what they know. So it forces them to
rethink basically everything we know about [INAUDIBLE]. Intolerance. Nobody believes
there’s intolerance. They still don’t believe them. But there’s a history
of intolerance in them. I still rub my
eyes in disbelief. We talk about this
early on in the course. Don’t you know that
Catholics and Protestants were at war with each
other in Philadelphia? Were entrenched with rifles and
cannons shooting at each other? AUDIENCE: You’re
saying intolerance is intrinsic to
religion in there? JOHN CORRIGAN:
There’s a long history of religious intolerance and
religious violence in America they’re unaware of. But they figure it
out pretty quick. They connect the dots very fast. You know, this
particular term, I’m actually teaching an
upper division course, undergraduate course in
religious intolerance in America. And the first– I think it
was the first week of class was the news brief
was film and all the accounts of
Jewish cemeteries that were desecrated. And all that kind of
stuff had happened when Trump took office. So suddenly the light
went on for them that maybe this didn’t
fall out thin air, that there was a
tradition of this, that they need to be engaged. AARON HOLLANDER: Yes? AUDIENCE: Thanks
for your insights. I was wondering how you–
if you have any insights or how do you deal with the
different levels of background knowledge the students
bring to the class? In an introductory
course, you want to be as general as possible. Of course, it’s an
introductory course, but you pulled some [INAUDIBLE]. But they are
secondary literature, so there must be some background
that the student needs to understand some
of these readings. So do you supplement that
with additional readings or through your lectures? Also [INAUDIBLE] what they read? Or I mean– I’m trying to
deal with my own head of sink or swim. You’re throwing them into
this ocean of information within this huge
field in which I might I have zero background on. So if I read somewhere
books, and then I have no background
knowledge, I don’t understand what’s going on. So I would naturally
gravitate toward what I– [INAUDIBLE] there’s
something there OK. So a lot of being
an instructor, how do you deal with that main lack
of information and background knowledge that they don’t have? They’re freshmen. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Yeah. Well, in a sort of way, the book
is the lifebuoy in the class. That’s what I–
that’s what they can cling to when they start
to feel maybe as if there is too much information. I try to be attentive to that. So what I do is I am
specific in addressing whatever the historical
framework is for that book. Take a few weeks to
talk about, you know, what happens to
religious immigrants when they come to America
in the late 19th century. How are Jews a part of that? How is it different from Russia? How is it– you know,
all that kind of stuff. I try and build up a kind of
point of reference for them. In this case, by focusing
on Jewish immigrants. Whereby, they can maybe
survey a little bit more of the larger field
of immigration itself and what it has to do
with religion in America. But the real centerpiece of
that will always be the book. Right? And they can always
come back to the book and say, well, when
we’re talking about say, Polish-Americans
immigrating to Chicago, you know, how that different? Because in the book when
they show up, [INAUDIBLE].. It’s the same sort
of way in Chicago. They did have a book that serves
them as a point of reference for asking other questions
about the larger framework that I build out
for them when we’re in that part of the course. Does that address your question? AUDIENCE: Yeah. I mean [INAUDIBLE] JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Maybe the question, or the
questions behind the question is when is too much information
too much information? I wonder about that
all the time as well. I think that’s partly a hit or
miss, trial and error operation in the midst of the class. You know, by calculating
the facial expressions and the amount of silence
and the amount of looking out the window. You can eventually
come to the conclusion that maybe there’s
information overload and you need to back up a
little bit in order in some way. But that’s the hard
part of teaching, which is a real interesting
part of teaching. Yes? AUDIENCE: I really
appreciate your emphasis on writing [INAUDIBLE]. I’m wondering about
reading skills that you find that students
become better readers. Some of it is a
lack of– students coming from very different
backgrounds in terms of knowledge. But I find reading is a real
problem for many students. Some of them just their
general vocabulary. I’ve gone through taking
a paragraph that’s packed with all sorts of things. And then I realized the
students don’t know this word, don’t know that word. Maybe we’re dealing
with different students, but do you find
that their reading skills advance over the
course of the semester? Is reading a challenge for them? JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Well, I would like to think
their reading improves. It’s a little bit different
in this particular course, because I’m throwing four or
five different genres at them. And I do that purposely, because
I want them to figure out that there’s different
ways of writing reviews and different ways of
thinking about books, depending on what kind of
genre you’re engaged with. I can think of
other courses I’ve taught where we read basically
the same historical monographs. And I think they’re right,
their reading does improve, because they kind
of get in a groove. And there’s a way to read
an historical monograph that you can learn that is
translatable from the one book to another. But I think it does improve over
the long run, their capability to read and to understand. I don’t know so much
about reading novels. Yeah, sticking to
one genre in courses that I’ve taught with
just one genre of writing, I think it improves, their
reading does improve. My goal in this
introductory course is partly to improve
their reading on a whole. But especially to improve
a certain part of it, which is reading critically
to be able to write about it. Which might be different that
just having them read along the textbook in the course
or something like that. AUDIENCE: About a
year and a half ago, I read an essay on [INAUDIBLE]
And my gripe with textbooks is they’re totally artificial
in terms of their writing style. They’re– I couldn’t imagine
you using a textbook. What you have done in your
class is you carefully selected some readings. And I have a sense that probably
your most important preparation for your courses are the books
that you decide to select. Because those books
are actually what the students are [INAUDIBLE]
that’s their experience. And my experience has been
finding that kind of book that is not an academic
article of some kind, it’s not the [INAUDIBLE]. It’s kind of a– it’s
between that and something that’s [INAUDIBLE]. So it’s this kind
of mental level where it’s accessible
to them, draws them in, but it’s not a cookie
cutter textbook explanation. And you’ve done that, I
can see that by the books that you’ve selected. One of the mistakes I’ve
seen young teachers make consistently over the
years when they come out is they have students
read far too much, and choose far too technical,
what they have in the reading, far too difficult.
And the trick is to find that stuff that is
both responseful and hook at the same time
and draws them in. And then you can teach
inductively, like you’re doing. And it’s using the
book as the springboard into this discussion with
the context and so forth. [INAUDIBLE] JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. AUDIENCE: One thing
I was thinking about as I listened to
your presentation is that you really have a lot
of worked to do in the way that you teach your course,
by providing this two weeks of sort of discussion
of the embroidery of the selections
that you create. That’s a lot of work. And that’s great, I mean,
we should be doing that. Another way of doing
that is to teach more Socratically in which
you draw the students into the contextual discussion
on the basis of what you’re having to read. JOHN CORRIGAN: I
totally agree with you. Yeah, I think that
can work well also. I think, if you’re going
to do that however, you have to have them read
something that’s going to be, to a certain extent,
familiar to them already. Obviously, they’re going to
learn something from the book, but there’s going to be
some kind of familiarity already with the
book that allows them to get a sense of their
own understanding of it. So that– which is probably
going to change the more you talk about it. But you do exactly as you
say, teach out [INAUDIBLE] and use that as a
point of departure for aggregating other data. AUDIENCE: Just another comment. What I really liked
about this course and what you’ve done with
this is that in a sense you’re sinking
four or five shafts into American religious history
and giving them something. At the same time, you’ve planted
probably four or five bombs in there too that exploded the
sort of stereotypical notions that they bring to the course. I think that’s very important. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. AUDIENCE: To be a bomber. I’ve always thought that part
of my job is to throw them off. AUDIENCE: Yeah. JOHN CORRIGAN: You
know, I mean you have to be disruptive
to teach effectively. There’s a fine line
she’s saying, you know. You want to disrupt them
but not be so disruptive– AUDIENCE: Yes. JOHN CORRIGAN: –that
it’s counterproductive. AUDIENCE: Right. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. No, I appreciate that. Thank you. AUDIENCE: So I’m looking on
the syllabus and immigration, for example, you alot
three weeks for the topic. And the book is The Rise
of David Levinsky, which is a pretty good sized novel. So I’m curious how you handle
the reading assignment. I’m glad that undergrads do
better when you don’t give them a big reading assignment. They’re more likely to do it if
you give them a shorter amount. So I’m curious, do you
assign the whole book at once and then have different
discussions over the three weeks on the book? Or do you divide it
maybe into thirds? How do you make sure
that they’re read it all? That you discuss the
different elements of the book that you’re talking about. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. No. That’s an explicit
strategy on my part. As we start each of these– I hate this word, but I haven’t
found a better one yet– course modules. As we start each one, I
say that the book for this, as you know from the
syllabus, is going to be, in this case, The Rise
of David Levinksy. So your paper is due this day. We’re going to be discussing
your papers on these days. It’s a long 530 page book. You better start reading it. And I lead at that. I don’t come back to it,
the next day or two days later or whatever
and say, what did you think about that third chapter
or something like that. I just let them go. And I do that with
all of the books. Partly, because I want
them to understand that their job is to engage
the book in their own way. And to follow the
leads that they create for themselves at the
very beginning of reading that book. I Want them to follow
their interest is and to make sense of the book
out of what matters to them. Until they get to the reviewing
and we pull them all apart. As a kind of exercise in
understanding the book. AUDIENCE: So you don’t
discuss the book as you’re going through the modules? You let them come up with
the ideas and then you talk? JOHN CORRIGAN: Absolutely. But it’s hard for them not to
understand something of what they nee to be writing about. How difficult it is
to leave the shuttle and come to the Lower East Side. And how you know, there
is a problem in jobs. There’s a problem with language,
there’s all kinds of stuff. It’s hard for them, when
I talk about how people can trade in
religious ideologies for social ideologies, like
social Darwinism, which is a big theme of
the book, of course. It’s hard for them to miss
seeing that in the book when I’m talking
about it in class. But to answer your
question really precisely, I don’t lead into it at all. I don’t talk about the
book like that at all until after they’ve
written the review. AUDIENCE: Thank you
for your comments, they’re really helpful– JOHN CORRIGAN: Thank you. AUDIENCE: –strategies to use. I guess I have some questions. And the first one
is that it seems like the 20 technical
improvements, I think– and this is
really helpful for thinking about talking to
undergrads on how to write. Giving out practical examples. They seem to be governed by
some principle– you talk about voice and understanding
what you’re trying to say, directing your
writing towards that. And it seems to me that
on the flip side, thinking about reading, you’ve
kind of outlined, perhaps, a principle for how they
could adjust their reading and think about one of
these kind of frameworks. And use that to
organize your questions as you’re reading a text. Have you thought about
20 technical improvements to reading? And to continue to suggest maybe
three off the top of your head might be helpful for us thinking
about teaching a teacher. And then the second question is
I’m really struck by number 20, would I hire you? How does that function of
thinking about students training into college and
moving on to the job market and applying skills? Or is this [INAUDIBLE]
relationship to the role of market? JOHN CORRIGAN: Yes. [LAUGHTER] OK. So two basic questions then. One, the hire thing. I want them to get a
clear sense that they have to talk to me like
they would talk to somebody who’s going to pay them. That they have to be just
as clear about who they are, and about what they
think, and be as vicious as they can getting
their ideas across as if I were deciding whether I
was going to hire them or not. And as far as tips
about reading, I actually do talk about that. When we start a new
module and I say, this is the book you’re
going to be reading. Right? And then let it go for
two or three weeks. Most of the time I say
something about how to read it. So I always say, when
we get to, for example, like an historical monograph. I always say, here’s how you
read an historical monograph. You read the introduction
very careful. You go immediately
to the conclusion, and read the conclusion. And make sure it lines
up with the introduction. And then you rad
chapter conclusions. And then you know basically,
what the arguments are. Then you go back and you rad
through each of the chapters to figure out if the data
and the string of connections that are proffered in each
of the chapters makes sense. And I have little kind of tips
for different sorts of genres of how they should read them. But that would be
an example that I offer to them when they set
out to read an history book. And somebody was saying
really– for textbooks. I personally think it’s
really Important for them to read textbooks. I think, you know– I still read textbooks. And I learn a lot still
from reading textbooks. And it isn’t just that I need
to learn a little bit more about information of some
person, place, or thing, or period, or idea, whatever. But you learn a lot about
just the organization of data. Textbooks are organized in
some certain sort of way that are very important for
all of us as academci scholars. We always need to be engaging
in that sort of thing. I think it’s important for
them to read textbooks. And I think there are ways
to reach read textbooks that make them more useful than how
oftentimes students read them. But it should
always be included. It doesn’t have to
be a textbook that covers the whole
range of the course, but a textbook-like thing
that at least addresses part of the course so they
can get used to reading it. And understand that
it can be decoded in the same the
same way that say, an historical monograph
can be decoded. Or even a novel or
something like that, decoded in the
interest of seeing its relevance to the course. AUDIENCE: Thank you. JOHN CORRIGAN: Sure. AUDIENCE: So one of
the things that you said earlier struck me, that
you mentioned that there’s a fine line between getting
the students’ thoughts and getting the students’
thoughts about material. I thought it was a great line. But specifically
regarding your emphasis on critical reading
and critical writing, especially in disciplines
that have a lot of data and specifically like formal
data or mathematical data. For an introductory
course, even for an honors first-year course,
a lot of these students are not prepared in
terms of methodology or the new laws of
methodology to be able to contradict or
critically argue with something like statistical data or
establish historical processes. And a lot of times
what I’ve encountered is that they insert anecdotes
from their own experience from small samples or even
just personal extractions that can be critical
of larger macro, generalizable perspectives, but
are often objectively wrong. How do you navigate
the ability for someone to be critical, especially
in the basis of something like data? And some of these more
generalizable principles that are working their
way through that field. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Well, I think first of all, the
first part of your question, there’s such a thing as assigned
books that are too ambitious. I mean, there might
be a great book with– when I was actually here at
the University of Chicago, there was a kind of history
that we used to joke was called chart
and graph history. And it was a kind
of social history, but it was historical writing
that made really exceptionally deep views of vast
amounts of data offered in the course of the monograph
as lots of charts and graphs. Sometimes I don’t think students
are ready to engage that. I don’t think,
first of all, they understand how the
author got that data. They don’t get that stuff isn’t
just something you look up in an encyclopedia
and draw a graph of. They don’t get that
there’s a certain kind of historical scholarly practice
that pulls all that stuff out of archives and so
forth and assembles it in this understandable
or digestive form. Sometimes it’s
asking more of them than they’re ready
to do to present them that kind of stuff. Even if the conclusions
and the arguments are all pretty
straightforward, I’m not sure they fully
engage what the book is without having
maybe even practiced some of that themselves. So there’s that. Sorry, the second part of
your question was about? AUDIENCE: How do you
prepare them for critically writing about such things? JOHN CORRIGAN: Oh, yeah. Right. What I’ll first respond to is
your point about that I took to be when you want
them to engage, say the complicated numerously
of an article or a book and they respond by offering
an anecdote, that’s a problem. Right? I don’t exactly know
how to solve that. Right? Lots of anecdotes
that I get in class oftentimes have to do
with identity politics. And oftentimes they can be
nicely disruptive on how people are thinking about things. Oftentimes they’re
entirely isolated in what we’re talking about. The best scenario always
is that somebody offers something about themselves– I think that’s what
you’re suggesting, some kind of anecdotal-ness– that makes people think harder
about the conclusions that are drawn because of data. It doesn’t help people to
understand the data better, but it just might
provide them a little bit different of a lens for
looking at the data. That’s about the best that I
can offer in regard to that. But the key is not
getting students lost in books full of
data that don’t make sense to them because they don’t
know where the data came from, how it was obtained. AARON HOLLANDER: I’m
on a similar line with this question
of what kind of work we’re doing with
preparing students. I guess I have a
question of metaphor. [INAUDIBLE] You spoke in the
beginning about the hurdles that students are
coming into your classes with out of high school. Hurdles to writing, some of
them psychological, some of them technical preparation issues. Do you see the work
that you’re doing more along the lines of training
them to jump those hurdles? Or is it more along the
lines of convincing them that they’re not really
there in the first place? Or is there some sort of
balance between those kind of operations? I’m just trying to get clear
on is the preparation talking about more skill based or
is it more attitudinal? JOHN CORRIGAN: Skill. AARON HOLLANDER: Yeah. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Yeah. It’s more skill based. I think– you see it with my
job and this kind of course probably more than anything else
as equipping them or helping them refine a set of skills
that are going to serve them in other courses and in the
same reach of good citizenship upon graduation. AARON HOLLANDER: Yeah. RICHARD ROSENGARTEN:
Especially in lieu of your last question, John. Would you briefly talk
very concretely about how you think about grading? I mean, do you go into
class with the idea that you want to cut to the
spread of options in the group, to go in and assume that
the way they perform will dictate a set of grades? And if you’re wiling, how
do they sort out at the end? I mean, are they
As and Bs and Cs? Are they across the gamut? And what’s it like
giving a grade to someone their first semester in college? JOHN CORRIGAN: I have one
standard for everybody int he class. So everybody is graded
basically the same. I’m pretty intolerant
of absences after three or four
times and all those kinds of things that hurt the grade. But I’m mostly interested
in seeing them improve over the course of the term. And so at the beginning, I
grade a little more easily than I do at the end. Right? The standards are basically
equal for everybody. But the standard changes. There’s one standard
for everyone, but the bar goes up in
this particular case. And I’m very explicit
about that in this course. I say, this first paper is going
to be graded up to this level. But a lot of you are only going
to get Cs or Bs right now. But it’s going to
be hard next time. And it’s going to be
harder after that, the last one will be
the most difficult one. And I do actually give
them a final exam. And that’s graded on
the same standard. The writing has to
be letter perfect. It all has to be– it’s
a written exam– all has to be the same sort of thing. There’s a very high
level at the end. So when I look at the
grades at the end, I tend to weight the
grades near the end more than I do at the beginning. If I see somebody who didn’t
get their act together until six weeks into the course,
but killed it after that, that’s a high
grade in the class. As far as distribution,
a lot of students bail out if they
don’t think they’re going to be able to
get an A in the class. They’re allowed after
say, three or four weeks– RICHARD ROSENGARTEN:
They withdraw? JOHN CORRIGAN: They withdraw. They– RICHARD ROSENGARTEN:
How dramatic is the numerical change? You go from 20 to 15 or? JOHN CORRIGAN: Maybe it’s– the
most it ever spans is probably around 20%. More typically
between 10% and 15%. So I’ve got basically
highly motivated people who think they’re going to get As. The– [INTERPOSING VOICES] [LAUGHTER] JOHN CORRIGAN: But
I give a few As. I give– usually,
say a class of 20, I’ll an A-plus, one or
two A-pluses, a few As, a few A-minuses, and then
most of the rest are Bs. Every once in a while
a C. A C is almost not a passing grade with what I do. It’s someone who just barely
eked it out if they got a C. So you can think
of a C as just– RICHARD ROSENGARTEN:
Is that all? No Ds? JOHN CORRIGAN: I haven’t
given a D in years. RICHARD ROSENGARTEN:
Do you give Fs? JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah, I give Fs. RICHARD ROSENGARTEN: Good. AUDIENCE: Two questions. First is do you have a native
experience of critical question upon their Christian
and/or Jewish and/or basically their own faith
being analyzed critically over the course of your career? And the second is– and
how you deal with that? The second is what is it that
you believe they’re paying you as consumers to do overall? Are you trying to form
characters, critical thinkers– what do they think their–
or the parents or what not? And how do you see
that differently? You know, in fact, I’m here
to create a good citizen is something [INAUDIBLE]. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Well, I do have a
sense that I’m teaching them something about virtue. I think the virtue
that I think I’m teaching them is persistence. I actually make a
big deal out of this. I have a little sermonette
that I give, oftentimes at the beginning of the class,
about the grit test, which has it’s own difficulties. But how service academies
and other universities now don’t care much
about ACTs or SATs, but they care about
the grit test. And that there’s a high
correlation between high scores on that and how people
do during the four years as opposed to the ACT or SAT. But of course, the bottom
line for that is just stick-to-it-iveness. And so one of the things that
I value very highly in them is there persistence
in what they do and their insistence on trying
to get it right over time. And I actually
reward them for that. I teach them how to do that
by coming back again and doing another draft. Or improving on the next
paper, that sort of thing. Or just phrasing a question
better in class discussion. So I think I’m doing
that to a certain extent. Fairness, I think I’m trying
to teach them as well. And this gets to your second– your first question
actually, which I’m answering in reverse order. I try and give them
a sense that there are lots of different ways
of looking at religion. And that there’s an insider
way in this and outsider way, but there’s all kinds of
other sort of in between ways as well. Like with people who
are insiders with one but outsiders to
others, or people who are completely
outside who are just looking at it out of curiosity. Or people who are
really clunkered down. Sometimes you see
this in the South, coming out of high
school in a silo, where it’s sort of
difficult for them to kind of move out of that
and see other sorts of things. But my emphasis
is always that we look– when we’re talking about
a particular religious group, we look at the ways in
which sometimes we’ve been complicit in say,
creating a gospel of wealth, which most students in the
class are not too happy about. But other times, they’re
complicit reading on social gospel, eight? Which a lot of students in
the class are happy about. So we do that. I think they’re sense of me,
according to evaluations, is that I’m biased. They pick up
something in the class that leads them to
believe that I’m giving sort of equal voice
and equal opportunity to any perspective that
comes up in the class and it’s worth people to
voice that because it’s going to be heard. But in the South–
in the southeast, it’s part of the question. There are people who
get very nervous. The one case that
stands out in my mind that I had a real
difficulty with– I’m curious how people
would solve this problem, was I’d have them read a
book, maybe 10 years ago on the Salem witch craft trials. Which was basically
about the way gender was involved in
the identification of women as witches. And they all most of
them wrote good reviews except for one student
who went back and did a very careful analysis of
Cotton Mather’s writings about what was
going on at Salem. And wrote a fairly long book
review in which she drew data from Cotton Mather’s theology
to push off against the claim that all this works
witch stuff had something to do with the intolerance
of women’s empowerment in the last decade of the
17th century in Salem. And for everything that she
could pull out in the books, she says, but this
is contradicted by Cotton Mathers’
statement that there really were devils in Salem. And that they took
the form of a dog or that they appeared as
these kind of visions. Or that they did cause people
to feel that their skin was and so forth. Therefore, and she’s talking
about the scholar who wrote this book– Cotton Mather is
right, and she’s wrong. And whent through
this whole thing, it was a very
orthodox conservative reading and understanding
of witchcraft. And I didn’t know what
quite to do with her, because in a certain way
it was pretty good theology for a student. But I finally said, I can’t
accept this book review, because it doesn’t
address the questions that I raised in class you’re
supposed to be writing about. This source work is good, but
here’s a really good course for you to take if you think
that this kind of writing is interesting. Here’s a course in
theology in America or here’s a course in
religion and ethics and theology or something. You should be taking this
course instead of my course. I encouraged her to drop out. I said, it’s going to
be difficult for you to get through this class
if you can’t figure out what the canons of scholarship
are that guide critical reading and writing. I’d be happy to work with you if
you want to stay and so forth, but you might be more
comfortable in one of these other courses. So she went. AUDIENCE: What’s the
relationship of your teaching to your scholarship. JOHN CORRIGAN: Relation of
teaching to scholarship. I think I take more from my
teaching than I’m expecting, especially graduate
teaching, you know. I learn so much from
graduate students about what my field is. I’ve benefited
enormously as a scholar from conversations with them. Undergraduate teaching,
I think it’s forced me sometimes to come off the fence
occasionally and make choices about what I think
really happened in my interpretation of things. I figure out after a while
that I’m not making sense to them when I and
a little bit less than direct about what I think. And if I want to– AUDIENCE: Your own voice. JOHN CORRIGAN: I feel like
sometimes that did work. I remember myself saying a
few times, that did work. Maybe I can incorporate it
into scholarship as well. You know, students talk
to you, because they want simpler clear answers,
which rarely can we give. But then once in a while,
it’s possible to firm up your own perspective,
because you’re trying to help them over a hurdle. AUDIENCE: Thank
you for your time. This has been a
great conversation, and I’m really grateful
for this syllabus. I’m wondering if you’re aware
when you’re teaching hot button issues of a gap in perceptive. That being your own location
and that of your students. And the reason for
asking this is I’m teaching a course at social
teaching where I work, which also introduces a
number of hot button issues, and of the 18 students– there
are 18 students in the class, I am the white male in the room. And so I mean, it’s a fun class. I also realize that we’re
talking about things that I read about and they’ve lived. And there’s this
difference in privilege or social location
that gives them a very different
take on this material from where I’m coming at,
and I don’t get neurotic about them thinking
that I’m a faker and that I don’t know
what I’m talking about. But you know,
between us, I don’t know what I’m talking about. [LAUGHTER] JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Yes. That’s real interesting. I always anticipate that
in class discussions there are going to be three or
four occasions in the course of an hour, things are going
to go in directions I just didn’t anticipate at all. And most of the
time, I roll with it, because I think we’re going
to get to something that helps us connect all of this better. Lots of times that happens. But let’s just say,
lots of times somebody will be talking about
something and they’ll be five other heads in
the class going like this. And I don’t get it. [LAUGHTER] I really want to understand. You know, maybe I don’t
get it because I’m trying to connect
it to the stuff that the course is
supposed to be about. But I also don’t
get it, as you say, because there’s that difference
of perspective over our age differences and our situations. Yeah. But I do always anticipate
that that’s going to be a part of discussion. And if I can work
it in and make it function in a way that is for
everybody, then it’s terrific. AUDIENCE: I’m curious about
you spoke a lot about writing skills and critical thinking. So how do you relate writing
skills versus oral skills in the cultivation
of critical thinking? Do you weight one
more than the other? Or are they dependent
on each other? How does that work? JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. Your experience
might be like mine. But oral communication
and written communication can be two different things. There are some students who
write exceptionally well, yet difficulty in class. Not necessarily
because they’re shy or because they’re intimidated
or something like that, they’re just not
talkers, you know. I can always handle the
problems with writing and help them become
better writers. Oral communication
is a really hard one. You know? The hard part of it is when you
teach writing, your comments can [INAUDIBLE]
You can say, you’re wrong about this,
this, this, and this. This is how you do
better next time. But in class, it’s
so hard [INAUDIBLE] to be able to say, OK, you
didn’t know what you’re talking about when you said that. But here’s what you
need to go back too. They’d be too
embarrassed, especially for the first-year students
to appreciate that. So that’s always a
really good challenge. It’s hard. And it’s hard to even
intervene at all while they’re trying improve their being able
to state what they’re thinking. So halfway through
the course, when everybody’s a little bit more
comfortable with each other. Nobody thinks anybody is
out to embarrass each other. Embarrass the other–
it’s hard to do. I basically work [INAUDIBLE] But I do try and get them
to restate things sometimes. Halfway through the course,
if somebody says something , I’ll say, well, can you restate
that maybe using a stronger verb? Or can you restate that with
direct reference to the book? Or direct reference to what Suzy
said, or something like that. And oftentimes, let’s stop and
think and make them do that. They have to be prompted to do
it and led in that direction. AARON HOLLANDER: We
have a final question. AUDIENCE: Yeah. This is great. I’d probably sell a body part
to have these kind of students. [LAUGHTER] [INAUDIBLE] But my experience
in teaching in two other large public
universities, but also having a third large
university faculty member in my department. This is the exact opposite
of my experiences. And I’m sort of wondering,
[INAUDIBLE] given the fact that Florida has a governor
that actually has said some very disparaging things about
teaching 100, 200 level courses, the humanities,
the social sciences, and [INAUDIBLE] so well. And I’ve had one– and how does this– do you find this is easily
readily translatable when you teach non-honors students. Students that haven’t bought in
either to their own education or to the value of humanities
and if they’re a STEM student. Or to your role as being an
advocate for the humanities. Particularly since
the [INAUDIBLE] from Bush to Obama
administrations of utilitarian value of
collegiate education. So that’s even part of not
the students’ narrative, while they live with
their parents, larger social pressures. JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHTER] JOHN CORRIGAN: Yeah, it’s– I’ve taught larger classes
and they’re never as good. I don’t think you can manage
what university you’re talking about or what
field of study it is. I think larger classes
are just harder to teach. And they’re less productive
in terms of learning after the term is over. AUDIENCE: My classes
are capped at 40. JOHN CORRIGAN: So 40. AUDIENCE: Yes. I’m not– I’m privileged I don’t
have stadium seating lecture hall. But even then, 40 students,
only 18 will ever show up and they’re the same 18. JOHN CORRIGAN: Well, the
thing about big classes is lots of times– I’ve taught plenty
of big classes where we’ll meet twice a
week for an hour lecture, and then third meeting will
be small discussion groups with teaching assistants. Right? Which you would think
would help a lot. But it helps but it also
is a problem because I can’t control the discussion. And when I get back,
say like on a Monday after there’s been a bunch of
Friday discussion sections. And it turns out there were
eight sections each talking about something
completely different. You know, it’s
challenging for me to try to figure
out exactly how I’m going to take my next steps
in getting something across. So small discussion
sections are good, but they have to be
kept in line somehow. And that’s a lot of work. So that’s asking a lot
of graduate students to get a kind of a
party line about what has to be discussed
in all those classes, rather than encouraging some
broader kind of discussion based on [INAUDIBLE]
So that’s a problem. And as far as the
university and its advocacy for the humanities, I’m
just lucky to be in a place where there’s a strong
efficacy for the humanities. But also lucky to be
in a department that has such huge enrollment
numbers that it can’t be denied. You know, we teach thousands
of students every year. I think we must,
maybe we register 8,000 or 9,000 students
a year in a department, for a departmental course. So it’s hard to knock that down
if you’re a STEM fanatic trying to displace money
from the humanities to STEM– you just
can’t do that. Too many good enrollments. But we can talk
more about that– AUDIENCE: Yeah. JOHN CORRIGAN:
–politics of that. AUDIENCE: I’m at 33. We’re on the chopping block. We’re 33,000 students. The department, eight
religious studies faculty on the chopping block
because we don’t [INAUDIBLE] JOHN CORRIGAN: And numbers talk. They do. They talk and save universities. It’s what makes a difference. Probably, I think about
88% of our students are on full scholarship
at the university. Because in Florida, if you
graduate with an A average, you get free college. So they’re all– none
of them are paying out of their own pockets. There are some fees to pay. So the [INAUDIBLE] is different. It’s different about–
because it’s not like state money is
allocated compartmentally, as it is at most
state universities. It kind of all goes into these
scholarships for students. And they just take
whatever they want. So it’s a little bit different
of a discussion for this. AARON HOLLANDER: That was
a very rich conversation. We have to close up. Those of use who are
not participating in meeting here
right afterwards, we need to depart briskly. [LAUGHTER] Go ahead and sign in
if you haven’t signed in for the session for credit. Please go ahead and get
coffee or soda on you way. And please join me in
thanking John Corrigan. [APPLAUSE]

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