Friday, February 06, 2004

BOOK REPORTS AND THE STUDENTS THAT FIGHT THEM
In my upper level course, prophets and prophecy, I sort of have this Jeckyl and Hyde (Cain and Abel might be the better analogy) thing going on with my two sections. One section is perhaps the most enjoyable group I've ever had the priviledge to teach here at Xavier. They are enthusiastic, interested, well prepared, and most importantly, they laugh at my jokes. The other section is, let's say, not so enthusiastic. The first third of the course has been devoted to a fantastic book by Baruch Halpern called David's Secret Demons. In the book Halpern applies historical criticism along with archaeological insights to the story of David. It explores such issues as who really killed Goliath, why the Uriah story might be political hype, and how to remove spin from ancient campaign accounts. It is a complicated book, but we've spent a great deal of time going over it in class. A week from today I am asking students to hand in a five page book report about the book, and from student reaction this morning, you would think I asked them to cut off their right arms. One student even took a poll as to how many students had a hard time understanding the book. Thank God for democracy. I told them I set the bar high, and that I think teaching them critical thinking such as Halpern applies in the book is the most valuable thing that they could learn in a university education. Especially in a world obsessed with Janet Jackson's breast while at the same time government officials, corporations, and a complacent media are spiraling the world ever downwards. That students need to be able to critically examine evidence or lack there of, and that at times it is good to be challenged, as that is how we best learn. I think students here in this MCAT preparation environment are spoon fed lists and formulas that they are asked to memorize, and then they regurgitate these on the exam. I look forward to reading their reviews, and I predict they will be much better than the students think they will be.

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