― Jeanne M. Slattery
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust
I ran across this photo recently as I was reading I fucking love science, a site on Facebook with a name that initially made me uncomfortable, and which I now fucking love. (Sorry, Mom.)
These bees’ nests formed from flower petals are beautiful, and made me reconsider a question that I often ask, “What should a good education do?” See Figure 1. Facts and figures are one part of a good education, but I think one of the most important things that a strong education does is make us see our world differently and inspire a sense of curiosity and wonder.
I’ve begun pulling together a course that I haven’t taught for about five years (Abnormal Psychology). Doing so is not a whole new experience, but I am rethinking much of it: DSM-5 rather than -IV, a new text, new technology, different thoughts about teaching. True, I want my students to know and understand the diagnostic system and most commonly used diagnoses. More than that, though, I want them to begin rethinking their assumptions about people, problems, themselves, and our society.
I will be starting all or most of my classes with a question, one that I don’t have an easy answer for. On day 3 I’ll ask, “What are your beliefs about what it means to be normal (or not)? How would you know whether Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jackson, or Donald Sterling have a problem? What evidence supports them having a problem? What counters this conclusion?” See Figure 2. I’m hoping that this gets my students ― and me ― thinking. I hope that they walk out of class each day thinking about these questions, talk to their friends about them, and begin to see their world differently. I hope they get me doing the same thing.
As I was thinking these things, I read an article by George Will (2014) that infuriated me. I disagree with almost all of his basic assumptions ― yet he got me thinking. In this case, I think his argument was irresponsible and poorly argued, but in playing devil’s advocate, as I hope he was doing and fear he wasn’t, he identified some specious thinking and got me examining and reconsidering my views (both good things).
If we can each day inspire this sense of wonder (the bees’ nests), help our students begin to think differently about themselves and their world (our questions), and poke, prod, and challenge them (Mr. Will’s piece), we’ve done our job well.
Will, G. (2014, June 6). Colleges become the victims of progressivism. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/george-will-college-become-the-victims-of-progressivism/2014/06/06/e90e73b4-eb50-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html
Thanks to Melissa K. Downes for her thoughtful and insightful comments on an earlier draft of this piece.
Jeanne Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is interested in thinking about what makes teaching and learning successful, and generally describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has written two books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy, and Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill (with C. Park), and is writing Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Research and clinical perspectives. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org