It's very discussion-oriented, and I think the student body is pretty good.
Thus far I've chatted with Matt (who works at a boarding school in Weston), Andy (who works at Eastern Nazarene College), Elizabeth (who's a convert to Islam -- and works with a Muslim group doing outreach and education), Lauren (who works at KSG and lives in Arlington). I didn't get to talk to the liberal Christian and former ballet dancer who just moved here from Kansas City (!) a few weeks ago. The TA was sitting in the front row and I was sitting near the back, and for a while I wasn't quite sure if the person was male or female. Her name is
My favorites are of course the people who are coming to this class with some positive background or interest in religion, but there are a bunch of people in the ALB program, many of whom are majoring in Government, and some some people who want to be on school boards, and I think they'll be good sorts of people to have in the discussions. There are a few people who are like, "I'm a scientist and don't understand how people can disbelieve in evolution," and we'll see how that plays out -- in so far as, we'll see whether they stay in the class and if so what their level of engagement is for the whole semester up until the group projects at the end (which are on the hot topics of: Sexuality, The Bible, and Evolution).
The syllabus is divided up as follows:
* Education and the Market Economy
* Pivotal Court Cases: The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses
* Religion and the Schools Case Studies: Sexuality; Teaching About the Bible; Evolution/Creationism/Intelligent Design
I'm so stoked that we get to read actual court rulings. The class will be divided up into four groups, so you're only reading one of the four rulings for each section. [For The Establishment Clause: Engel v. Vitale (1962); Abington v. Schempp (1963); Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002); Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al. (2005). For The Free Exercise Clause: Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925); Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972); Mozert v. Hawkins (1987); Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith (1990).]
The prof described this course as a "religion and public policy course through the lens of education."
She said that a lot of the debate boils down to what one sees as the purpose of education -- preparation for democratic citizenship vs. skills for market economy. Which makes a lot of sense to me. Though I feel like these days there's just a fetishization of a "liberal arts" education without much probing into any practical application of that.
After doing an introduction to the course and to each other, the prof handed out very brief (1-3 paragraphs) case studies. Hee, case studies! That actually reminded me of a piece I'd read recently in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge -- "Is Case Method Instruction Due for an Overhaul?" by Jim Heskett (September 5, 2008). Though the criticism there is largely confined to the use of the case method in business school. Definitely it's a very useful way to teach (even though you might not want it to be your only pedagogical tool).
The pre-reading was the prof's article "Overcoming Religious Illiteracy: A Cultural Studies Approach." One of the things which really struck me was the idea about the difference between devotional knowledge and academic knowledge.