Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Where a Geneticist Can Teach 'Gilgamesh'"

I've been wanting to comment on The Chronicle article "Where a Geneticist Can Teach 'Gilgamesh'" for a while now. From the beginning of the article:
One sunny day shortly after the start of the fall term, Robert M. Dawley was preparing to spend the afternoon tutoring two students on how to measure the DNA content in the cells of tadpoles.

But first he walked briskly out of his building and over to a small lounge with white cinder-block walls, stretched out on the carpeted floor, his head propped up on a bent arm, and asked a small class of bright-eyed freshmen sitting along the walls to reflect on Gilgamesh, the world's oldest-known epic poem. Gilgamesh, the virile Mesopotamian king who may actually have lived around 2700 BC, is both hero and villain in his failed quest for immortality.
In short, the article discusses the idea of year-long core seminars, focusing on the program at Ursinus College where Robert Dawley teaches. By most accounts, including those of the students themselves, Ursinus' program is successful and most of the faculty, including those outside the humanities, find value in teaching humanities based first year seminars.

Looking back to my post in response to Domenico Grasso's piece "Is It Time to Shut Down Engineering Colleges?," I'd like to push this idea a bit further and suggest we think about having philosophers and literary scholars and historians teaching genetic engineering or cosmology. I'm not suggesting that non scientists teach upper division courses in the sciences but, instead, I'm suggesting, as in my earlier post, that our non scientists need more exposure to issues of science and technology, and, like Grasso, I think we all need to think about science and technology from a humanist perspective. Again, he argues:
Faced with the increasingly complex design challenges of the 21st century — an era where resources of every kind are reaching their limit, human populations are exploding, and global-warming related environmental catastrophe beckons — engineers need to grow beyond their traditional roles as problem-solvers to become problem-definers.

To catalyze this shift, our engineering curriculum, now packed with technical courses, needs a fresh start. Today’s engineers must be educated to think broadly in fundamental and integrative ways about the basic tenets of engineering. If we define engineering as the application of math and science in service to humanity, these tenets must include study of the human condition, the human experience, the human record.

So, why should all the core science classes be the traditional introductions to those disciplines? Why not interdisciplinary (transdisciplinary) seminars focusing on the social, cultural, political, historical aspects of science and technology? We are a technological society that has little understanding of science or technology, let alone the social, cultural, political, and historical aspects of science and technology. A well-rounded, liberal, education is not just rooted in the humanities. It is rooted in the sciences (and the social sciences) as well. It involves the making the connections among the disciplines, in considering disciplinary issues through the lens of other disciplines.

via Jerz's Literacy Weblog.

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At 5:16 AM, Blogger Klárika said...

Hi John!

I don't really understand why your posts don't have any comments... They were usefull to me!

Congratulations and go on!

At 9:31 AM, Blogger John said...

Thank you. I've always assumed it's because of the commonplace book nature of many of my posts. Hits, links, and RSS subscriptions keep going up, so I know people are reading.... Please feel free to comment as much as you want. :)


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