In defense of introductory courses

To the editor:

 Your recent editorial about co-taught introductory courses (“Bias 101”, March 20, 2014) suggests that professors from one academic sub-discipline bias introductory courses by emphasizing the doctrine or methodology of that sub-discipline at the expense of alternative perspectives. While some professors certainly do privilege their own subfields, many are also excellent at providing unbiased surveys of all of the sub-disciplines within their respective departments. At least two of the Swarthmore professors who teach introductory courses in philosophy — one of the express targets of your piece and my major field — are particularly good at “taking the generous reading” from all authors, and challenging students to do the same. They help students appreciate the central arguments from a representative cross-section of philosophical views, regardless of whether or not the professor personally agrees with those views.

 Team-teaching also carries with it unique difficulties, including coordination of curriculum, thematic continuity across lectures, consistency of grading practices and ability to form deep relationships with students through consistent encounters in class. All of these difficulties are surmountable. However, faculty who do not enthusiastically attack the unique challenges of team-teaching or who do not form a strong working relationship with one another will be unable to surpass the quality of a single, well-intentioned professor giving an impartial overview of the material. These comparative advantages should be kept in mind when deciding whether to team-teach introductory courses, and departments and faculty should evaluate their particular staffing capabilities and enrollment demands when deciding which policy to employ.

Griffin Olmstead 

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