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Pedagogy

One thing all our courses have in common is the explicit attention we pay in them to normative issues--judgments of value and worth--especially as they bear on human conduct. Reflection on what kinds of thoughts, actions and lives are most worthwhile is at the core of philosophical and religious traditions. Our efforts here are directed at asking each student to reach a deeper understanding of a variety of points of view, including their own. We seek to provide a classroom environment where students feel free to try out new ways of feeling and thinking, to change their minds, and to retain their deep convictions as they wrestle with a growing awareness of the complexities of the issues.

Honesty and academic freedom are crucial to the success of our courses. No points of view are prescribed or proscribed in advance. At the same time we ask that students learn to apply intellectual standards including accuracy, exemplification, and coherence to the discussion of various points of view. Given these commitments we are admittedly uncomfortable with students who remain dogmatically and unreflectively doctrinaire or skeptical.

We adopt a variety of strategies to achieve our programmatic goals in and out of the classroom. We often set aside time in the beginning of our courses for exercises designed to help student locate the views they bring into the course. In many courses we require students to keep journals of their personal responses to the readings and to the issues that surface in class discussions. We often ask them to share those responses with another class member at the beginning of class. Groups are often assigned tasks of analysis of texts that lead to class exercises in critical reflection. Quizzes and tests are administered to establish student mastery of important information. Prepared in-class essays and short papers are frequently assigned. On these essays students are asked to show the depth of their understanding of the texts and the issues. They are often also asked to express and justify a position of their own. In some courses the term ends with a long paper that should reflect carefully guided research on a topic chosen by the student. Often the resources of the library are employed. In other courses the term concludes with a final exam that encourages the student to revisit fundamental questions with a term's work of reflection in hand.

In all cases, we encourage students to view their reflection on issues raised in our courses as work in progress. We hope they will find the continuing reflection on the issues we have addressed together to be enjoyable as well as challenging and fulfilling.