Stranger Fruit

First real week of teaching

Last week was the first real week of teaching in that it was the first week when we had content-driven classes. So Tuesday saw me walking into class for a three-hour seminar on Galileo (to be repeated again on Thursday). The reading was relatively easy – Drake’s translations of Starry Messenger (1610), Letters on Sunspots (1613) and the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) – so I expected no major problems with that. One of the most difficult things, in my mind at least, is trying to convince students about how novel Galileo’s finisings were. They know about the moons of Jupiter, they know about heliocentrism (unlike the approximately 25% of Americans who apparently don’t), they have perhaps used better telescopes than Galileo, and they see Hubble Space Telescope pictures on a regular basis. We ended up spending the first two hours examining Galileo’s evidence and how it proved difficult to explain using the Ptolemaic model, with brief pauses on Copernicus, Kepler, and Brahe. I ended by tying it all in with Descartes (who we are reading this week) and Newton (next week).

The last hour we spent on the Letter, more as a teaser to the issues about science and religion that we will encounter when we discuss Kant, Paley, Hume, and, of course, Darwin. All in all, it was a relatively successful class, though there was probably a little too much talking from me (perhaps justifiable in that there was a lot of grounding material to be covered for the next few weeks).

Wednesday’s class it totally different – a three hour lecture (mostly) course on Origins, Evolution and Creation. This week I was supposed to cover (albeit briefly) the nature of science & religion and to introduce the students to the Documentary Hypothesis and Genesis (this in preparation for the few weeks we will be spending on young-earth creationism). Sadly, for me at least, I never got round to the latter portion of the class and now have to figure out where to put the material in this week’s lecture on pre-Darwinian thought. The good news, though, was that the class of 45 talked, asked questions, and generally interacted with me … always good especially in a lecture course for (mostly) non-majors.

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    January 29, 2006

    Can you expand a little on the course – is it Philosophy of Science, or History of Science? Is it team-taught? Why three hours once a week? That’s a killer! Is there a syllabus online?

  2. #2 John Lynch
    January 29, 2006

    Glad you asked :)

    The Tuesday class (also offered on Thursday) is the second half of the “Great Books” seminar that is mandatory for honors students here at ASU. It is a Socratic seminar with 19 students and one professor (I am one of twelve that teach between two and four sections a semester). It is writing intensive and aims to allow the students engage with primary materials. In the past, it has largely concentrated on non-scientific texts, but recently some of us have developed more “science intensive” sections – the goal being for students (often science or engineering majors) to get exposted to primary texts within the sciences while also exposing them to the historical, cultural, and philsophical background. So, in short, it is science, history of science, and philosophy of science, all rolled up into one!

    Three hours … traditionally the course meets twice or three times a week. I decided to try once a week to see what happens. I may yet regret it :)

    Syllabus online … not at the moment. It would probably be easier for me to post what the coming weeks hold:

    Method and Reason: Descartes, Discourse on Method (parts I – IV) & Meditations on the First Philosophy (all)
    Inferences from Data: Newton, Principia (extracts)
    Inference from Design: Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion & On Miracles (all).
    Background lecture: What Did Darwin Know? Herschel, Preliminary Discourse (extracts).
    Natural and Sexual Selection: Origin of Species (extracts) + Descent (extracts)
    Selection and Humans: Descent of Man (extracys)
    Evolution and Ethics: Huxley, Evolution & Ethics (all); Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morality (Book 1)
    Eugenics: Readings online (to be announced)
    Sociobiology: Readings online (to be announced)
    Time: Einstein, The Theory of Relativity (all)
    Chaos: Stoppard, Arcadia (all)

    I’ll be posting about the course on and off over the semester.

  3. #3 coturnix
    January 29, 2006

    Great! Thank you.

    I wish I had a class like this when I was young… The closest I got was a graduate seminar in which we read a lot of Darwin (and not about Darwin by others – that was a separate course) a course co-taught by a historian of science (a “Darwin scholar”) and an evolutionary biologist.

    Looking forward to your blogging the class through the semester!

  4. #4 cpurrin1
    February 6, 2006

    The course sounds great — found this blog while searching for “heliocentrism” lesson plans for public school kids. If you have some time to waste, I’d be grateful for any comments on my “Heliocentrism Day” project: http://www.swarthmore.edu/NatSci/cpurrin1/evolk12/slm/heliocentrismday.htm.

    Cheers,
    Colin