Sunday, July 1, 2012

Call for criticism and feedback

Hey smart people. I'm teaching a course in "How not to be an awful person" next year, and I've got a draft of the course plan. I'm hoping to get some criticism and help from you all in making this better.
Self and Society - Course Plan v1.9

Here's the criticism that I've heard so far from readers:

  • It's unprofessional to discuss charity choice with students. Likewise for how much money they choose to spend. In general, teachers should not ask students to reflect on the details of their personal lives. (From a colleague)
  • Kids will be more interested in the abstract, big ideas than in personal reflection.
  • The trip to the food pantry/soup kitchen should be earlier in the year. 
  • There is redundancy in the course plan.
  • There is insufficient attention paid to dispositions, emotions, thoughts and too much on actions.
While I'd appreciate ALL of your thoughts and criticism, feedback concerning the above are especially appreciated.

Thanks in advance, readers. I owe you one.


  1. Completely disagree with "It's unprofessional to discuss charity choice with students. Likewise for how much money they choose to spend. In general, teachers should not ask students to reflect on the details of their personal lives."

    It's unprofessional to collect information on student's personal lives, but if you can find a way to get them to think about what they do - that's cool. Just don't force them to share it with you.

  2. -The trip to the food kitchen should definitely occur as early as possible in the year.

    -What kind of school do you teach at? Is it fair to have "give money" as a standard for your class? ("Significant increase in money donated to charitable causes" as a "Measure of Success")

    -Are kids ever interested in the more abstract? I thought exactly the opposite was the general rule. Seriously, what kind of school do you teach in?

    -Redundancy won't be a problem if there is variety/freshness in what they are doing, i.e., assignments. With this kind of content, some redundancy might be necessary for it to sink in. "No, you can't forget about giving to charity because we already talked about it."

    -A focus on actions is fine. Sometimes, I think, people use emotion as an excuse not to act. The suffering need action.

  3. okay. here are my thoughts on the other peoples' feedback:

    1-completely disagree, but the same question occurred to me as James: what are the expectations for asking students to donate? would asking them to raise money to contribute to a charitable cause be more appropriate? answer depends on the context.

    2-also disagree. umm, you're teaching teenagers. teenagers love to think about themselves.

    3-agree that earlier might be better, but logistics may play a role in this decision, and later doesn't mean that students will get less out of the experience. it just means they (and you) will have fewer opportunities to repeat the experience, something which I think is beneficial.

    4-agree. this is a good thing. so long as repetition builds upon or goes deeper into the original pass through something.

    5-not really sure how I react to this one. actions lead to emotional connection and help to build empathy. I would imagine that discussions of this type would arise somewhat naturally as a result of the readings and actions you have in mind. it's also really hard to say to kids, "we're going to talk about our feelings for the next 20 minutes" and have that go well. at least for me; another--better--teacher could probably handle it.

  4. I would like to make some general comments that may or may not be helpful. While you've done a nice job of setting up your curriculum, in my opinion, it's a bit one-sided in a couple of ways.

    The title of the course is "Self and Society" but the plan concentrates almost solely on the Society part. Even though there's self-reflection built in, it's only in regards to activities concerning others and society. Certainly the overall goal is for the student to achieve a greater sense of empathy for others (esp. others different from oneself, or others in need), but I think it would be useful to include an examination for the students of the self and what each individual is like in respect to needs, desires, goals, personality, interests, etc. These kinds of self aspect really color the way people end up interacting with others and what strengths the individual can bring to the table in society.

    This brings me to my second point. The plan seems a little one-size fits all to me. (Since your document is just an outline, it leaves out the conversations you would have about the various topics, so I may be off point here.) It's my own belief that every individual should give back to society in a way that is appropriate and personal for the individual.

    For instance, a fellow teacher spends part of her summer time helping inner-city ESL kids in a reading program. She's a Spanish teacher and really enjoys being involved with the kids in that manner. It's an expression of who she is and develops her as a human being in a way that another way of giving might not. The parents of a family that's struggling financially would actually be irresponsible to give money to charity, perhaps giving of their time instead. I'm just saying that giving back to society doesn't look the same for each person or each family.

    Sometimes bettering oneself in certain ways is one of the best ways to give back. For instance, I left the decent-paying field of accounting to become an indecently-paid high school teacher. It was a way both to give back to society and fulfill my own interests and self-expression.

    It's my belief that giving back shouldn't be thought of as a chore, but as a joyous way of self-expression and self-growth. For an individual to simply go down a checklist of required ways to give back to society, as opposed to finding the best and most fulfilling ways for him/herself, takes the joy out of it.

    It's exactly right to give individuals the experience of the various ways to give to society, which is what your curriculum does. I'm just wanting to add my viewpoint on the importance of self-expression in the equation. I think this also applies to where some judgment calls need to be made on an individual basis. For instance, people do have legitimate differences of opinion as to how helpful it actually is to give money to someone begging for it on the street. Do they truly seem homeless and without food and will use the money appropriately or does it seem clear they'll just use it to get drunk? This kind of situation is where a sense of the self and of a individual moral compass is needed. It's too easy to skip the judgment call part and just give out of a sense of guilt; you make yourself feel better, but do no real good for the other.

    Sorry for the long-winded and rambling response. I hope some of it made sense.