Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Achieving the gender equitable syllabus

I'm not sure what to do about the inadequate representation of women in academic philosophy. There are certainly many explanations for it, one of which is that the relative lack of women on philosophy syllabi signals to women that they are not welcome in the profession and should not aspire to membership in it.

I simply don't know enough to say what role this phenomenon has in explaining the inadequate representation of women in our field, but it strikes me as plausible enough that we philosophy instructors should make efforts to include the work of women philosophers in our courses. Even if this turns out to have only a very small role in explaining the inadequate representation, it does no harm to include the work of women philosophers in our courses when appropriate.

This post at Feminist Philosophers motivated me to look at my own syllabi for gender equity and representation. The results:

Monday, October 18, 2010

We're still not teaching the meaning of life. Huh.

A few years back, we ISW'ers took a Yale law professor to task for his claim that the humanities have given up teaching about the meaning of life. Not so, said we philosophers!

But now, one of our own, the distinguished moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, is issuing a similar complaint. From a Chronicle of Higher Ed article on Stanley Cavell:
In God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition, the latest in a number of recent books critical of the modern research university, the influential Irish-born philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argues that "neither the university nor philosophy is any longer seen as engaging the questions" of "plain persons." These questions include: "What is our place in the order of things? Of what powers in the natural and social world do we need to take account? How should we respond to the facts of suffering and death? What is our relationship to the dead? What is it to live a human life well? What is it to live it badly?" Now in his 80s, MacIntyre is among a small group of philosophers who have sought to address such questions. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Requiem for the final exam?

The Boston Globe reports that university faculty are giving final exams less frequently:
In the spring term at Harvard last year, only 259 of the 1,137 undergraduate courses had a scheduled final exam, the lowest number since 2002, according to Jay M. Harris, the dean of undergraduate education. Harris said he’s hesitant to read too much into the numbers, which, he said, don’t include whatever final exams were scheduled in language courses, don’t reflect the other forms of assessment that have replaced exams, and don’t account for small seminar classes, which typically would not have a traditional, sit-down, blue-book final.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fish Food

Mark it: Stanley Fish said that the crisis of the humanities has officially arrived -- their collapse "already happened, on Oct. 1, when George M. Philip, president of SUNY Albany, announced that the French, Italian, classics, Russian and theater programs were getting the axe."

His proposed course of action -- not necessarily for SUNY Albany in particular, but for humanists (and those who love them) generally: "The only thing that might fly — and I’m hardly optimistic — is politics, by which I mean the political efforts of senior academic administrators to explain and defend the core enterprise to those constituencies — legislatures, boards of trustees, alumni, parents and others — that have either let bad educational things happen or have actively connived in them."

See the rest of his article at The New York Times's site, here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/11/the-crisis-of-the-humanities-officially-arrives/.

I'd appreciate it if someone could help me to understand what Fish thinks "the core enterprise" of the humanities actually IS. After all, as far as I can tell, he dismisses the central characterizations of (the value of) the humanities that we've been discussing here in conjunction with Nussbaum's book.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Class sizes revisited (now with Bystander Effect!)

A year or so ago, I asked about the impact of class size on learning, particularly in the philosophy classroom. The conventional wisdom among educators is that smaller class sizes are more conducive to learning, though (based on my limited knowledge of this literature) this conventional wisdom has not been easy to corroborate. In particular, the question of the impact of class size on student learning is hard to study at the post-secondary level. Suppose that a faculty member teaches two courses, one a 50-person lecture and the other a 4-student directed reading. That yields a student-to-faculty ratio of 27-to-1. But that number obviously conceals the massive differences between the learning experiences in the lecture course versus the directed reading.

So along comes a study tailormade to yield valid findings about the impact of class size on learning — and it suggested to me an explanation for why smaller class sizes might have a positive impact on student learning, particular in inquiry-oriented disciplines like philosophy.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The humanities in decline: Are we overreacting?

In the wake of our Nussbaum series, I found these discussions by W. Robert Connor, Cheryl Ching, and Ricard Greenwald of why the humanities endure (part I, part II) an interesting counterweight to Nussbaum's book. These authors certainly make the humanities out to be far healthier than Nussbaum does and imply that we humanists might be succumbing to a popular cultural trope: the declinist narrative.

Connor and Ching challenge the claim that the humanities (at least at the university level) are in decline. Yes, they are smaller relative to other disciplines, but that's due to an explosion in students studying fields like business. The humanities defy the declinist narrative: