Embracing Liberal Arts through Team-Taught Courses

April 23, 2018

By Hannah Harper '18

This semester, several interdisciplinary courses taught by faculty in different departments are giving Saint Anselm College students fresh perceptions on issues of race, religion in schools, and the philosophy surrounding art and culture in a post-war era.  

Through these team-taught courses, professors are making unique connections across disciplines, offering “Race and Justice” taught by professors Tauna Sisco (sociology and social work) and Christopher Bruell (criminal justice); “Catholic Schools in Today’s Society” taught by professors Aubrey Scheopner Torres (education) and Bede Bidlack (theology); and “Paris and New York in the 20’s and 30’s” taught by professors Max Latona (philosophy) and Susanne Rossbach (modern languages).

Dean of the College Mark Cronin says the interdisciplinary approach is beneficial to both students and professors in gaining new perspectives on multifaceted issues. “In the world outside of the classroom, issues are rarely disciplinary specific. They’re messy, complex, connected to a variety of people, places, and things, and the more we can show that, the better our students are served,” says Cronin.

“Race and Justice” is designed to offer the foundational knowledge and tools to confront a multitude of topics within the social justice sphere. The contemporary nature of the course allows students of all majors to engage with the material and facilitate productive discussions.

English major Mae Hunt ’18 took the course in her last semester, as a way to step out of her comfort zone. “I really enjoy learning about social justice issues and this class seemed like the optimal way to do that before graduating,” says Hunt. “It's been really cool to see some overlaps between how race was constructed and how it was portrayed in the literature that I've read from my English classes during that time.”

Sisco and Bruell hope that students may learn to recognize and understand diverse perspectives through these academic experiences. In “Race and Justice,” students learn from each other through debates on policy and interactive discussions with guest speakers, rather than from lectures. For the course’s final project, students apply their knowledge in a visual case study. Each group focuses on one of the contemporary topics discussed in class, including the Black Lives Matter movement, recent NFL National Anthem protests, Dreamers, the Dakota Pipeline, and the water issue in Flint, Michigan. The students interview both experts and members of the campus community, family, and friends, to gather information for their presentations.

Bruell says, “[Race in the justice system] is a topic many people shy away from. Giving students the knowledge as well as the confidence to have difficult discussions is one of the primary goals of the course.”

Sisco notes that optional service-learning, which can deepen students’ understanding of the coursework, was also encouraged.

“Catholic Schools in Today’s Society” focuses on contemporary issues facing American K-12 schools, including the increasing diversification of religious backgrounds in Catholic schools. The course features two panels of guest speakers, one made up of Catholic educators, including Saint Anselm’s own Father John Fortin, O.S.B., the former superintendent of the Diocese of Manchester Schools, and another inter-faith panel, made up of Muslim, Jewish, and Protestant Christian educators. Bidlack and Scheopner Torres split lecture time between theological and educational material, but challenge their students to make connections wherever possible.

“Part of our method of teaching is making connections across the topics,” says Bidlack, “The challenge of any interdisciplinary course is to cross those borders and to be comfortable with complexity.”

Bidlack and Scheopner Torres think their course prepares those students who wish to work in religious education, as it offers a religious and historical overview as well as multiple religious educator and administrator perspectives. For their final projects, students are required to choose and research topics in Catholic schools and interview administrators from area schools. Projects include studies on how Catholic schools deal with secondary English speakers, special needs students, sex education, and religious diversity. Bidlack and Scheopner Torres hope to offer the course every other year and eventually integrate it into the humanities minor to engage more students.

“Paris and New York in the 20’s and 30’s” explores the impact of World War I on Paris and New York society, specifically how the works of writers and artists of the time reflected the view of the general population on modern society and western civilization. Latona and Rossbach discuss artistic movements, famous authors, popular music, and architectural trends. Students are encouraged to explore these topics and even take a three-day trip to New York City to view architecture, museums, and Broadway shows.

“What is most gratifying for the faculty is to see a student take interest and joy in something about which they previously knew nothing,” says Latona.

He adds that “Paris and New York” includes guest speakers from the English, fine arts, history, and economics and business departments as a way to further promote the interdisciplinary nature of the class. “Interacting with one another, sharing ideas, and showing the students that we are all after the same thing – understanding of our world and ourselves — is a wonderful feature of the course,” Latona says.

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