We're having discussions these days about how we can give our students "integrative learning"* experiences. One model, of course, has instructors from two fields working together on some level to show how two fields speak to each other, think about a common issue, etc. That can be an expensive proposition if we're thinking of two instructors team teaching or coordinating two small classes. And expensive isn't something that happens here, especially of late.
Another model has one instructor doing something "integrative" in a given course. That's cheap, because the school only has to pay one person.
And, of course, cheap is where we're aiming.
Yesterday, I was at a meeting where a faculty member suggested that since Leonardo had demonstrated expertise in all sorts of fields, we should be able to, too. She also suggested that she'd had a professor once who talked all about the relationship between Shakespeare and Delacroix, and how influential that professor had been on her own learning.
You may be thinking that I was extraordinarily polite in not interrupting to say that Shakespeare and Delacroix couldn't have had a relationship unless Shakespeare had come back from the dead, but mostly I wasn't able to understand what she said well (I have difficulty with her accent; I know this is my failing, so I keep my mouth shut).
I think learning to think in different ways, thinking creatively, and certainly understanding different fields is really important. I'm guessing I've taken more in depth courses in vastly different fields than most of my colleagues. But I also know how well I know my own field, and how little and outdated my knowledge of other fields is.
And I greatly respect other peoples' knowledge.
Now, English lit folks are notoriously unchaste when it comes to dabbling all over. We read psych, anthro, history, you name it. But we don't read in those fields the way experts in the fields do, nor do we read the same things, nor do we keep up in the field. We still teach Freud, for gosh sakes. Seriously, the last time anyone in Psych actually took Freud seriously was sometime around 1953, wasn't it? We still read Levi-Strauss as though he's the latest, coolest thing. And that's sort of okay, so long as we think about what we're doing in terms of teaching literature, perhaps. But if we think we have anything useful to say about thinking in the field of psychology or anthropology, we're probably wrong.
And imagining that we faculty folks here at a regional comprehensive university can somehow reproduce the multi-disciplinary learning of one of the top 10 or so minds in western Europe in the past thousand years? Well, I'm sure as heck not there.
I'm frustrated, too, because some of these folks talk about how exciting and liberating it is to teach all these wonderful new courses, and I can't think of much more exciting and liberating course to teach than Shakespeare, or Chaucer, or a seminar on early modern left earlobe studies. And then I secretly feel sorry for them that they don't get to teach Shakespeare and stuff, and don't seem to be endlessly amazed and fascinated by the stuff they do teach. Shhhhh. Don't tell or they'll all decide they're expert enough to teach Shakespeare and how Hamlet is all about the Oedipal.
* "Integrative learning" is the latest catchphrase here, along with "operational outcomes" or something. It's a way of trying to talk about interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary and just two or more fields of study somehow having something to do with each other without actually carefully thinking about how or what we're talking about.