Write-up on ACTC’s 17th Annual Conference sponsored by Yale in New Haven, CT

From April 14 through April 17, 2011, I had the honor and pleasure of presenting at the 17th Annual Conference for the Association for Core Texts and Courses, sponsored by Yale University, and co-sponsored by Augustana College, Boston College, and College of the Holy Cross, hosted at The Omni Hotel in New Haven, Connecticut. This year’s theme was “The Quest for Excellence: Liberal Arts and Core Texts.”

One of the plenary speakers argued for the spirituality of 19th century French poetry focusing on a particular piece by Mallarme, and two scientists, a quantum physicist and a chemist, responded with genuine enthusiasm about the connections they’d made to the poem presented and how the poem demonstrated the fragmentation in quantum physics and solvation of chemistry. The engagement from the scientists was wonderfully inspiring, and I truly hope to see more reaching out across the disciplines.

Thankfully the last speaker for the plenary sessions called for more cross-disciplinary collaboration and criticized the institutions for making such collaborations impossible. ACTC focuses more on critical and scholarly work though some of the panels centered on best practices and pedagogy. The panel “Core Images, Part II: Learning, Examples, Practice” brought together art historians and art professors who urged the use of art as a vital source for discussion and inquiry. Tatiana Klacsman from Augusta State University and her presentation “The Iliad in Teaching Art History within a Humanities Framework” covered how culture and values can be analyzed and evaluated through Greek artifacts. Mona Holmlund from University of Saskatchewan discussed approaches to indigenous art, especially in contrast to the Western canon with her presentation “The Challenges of Integrating Indigenous Knowledge with the Western Canon.”

Another literature scholar posed the worry of art replacing the written word, and an attendee followed up by asking how much time should faculty dedicate to art versus text. I had to counter that time is a measure of value, and everything discussed on that panel came down to values whether we’re comparing Indigenous art to Western or text versus image. As Socrates lamented the rise of the written word claiming that text would corrupt the rich oral culture of his time, everything comes down to values, which is determined by culture. We need to keep this in mind anytime we weigh one thing against another. As scholars we should constantly be checking our values and be wary of how our values factor into our curriculum, especially considering how those values may be servicing our goals for diverse student populations.

My own paper certainly evolved out of this consideration of values, which I presented for the panel “Contemplating Critique: How Far Back in Time is It Used?” Here’s an excerpt:

Engaging First-generation Students with Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality

Through his Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau draws in First-generation students through affective means, modeling an essential method of critique and analysis that demonstrates an individual’s agency of power based on reason, observation, and imagination. Rousseau provides a critical point of connection for students who may not be traditionally accustomed to the culture and privilege of higher education, and, through his narrative and argument, students can discover a means for engagement within their communities.

Nicole, we’ll call her, was a student who had yet to find her footing, academically. By simplest definition, she is a first-generation student. Neither of her parents had earned their undergraduate degree, and the college experience was all together uncharted waters for her and her family. She floated through Greek Thought and listlessly wandered through the likes of Dante, Augustine, and Chaucer in Roman/Christian, consistently feeling estranged by authors who looked and sounded nothing like her, describing cultures and concepts that seemed completely foreign, and irrelevant to her immediate experience.

By the time she came to my class as a sophomore, she had found her niche on campus and was part of a strong social network, but, academically, she was still unanchored and her displacement seriously affected her GPA. Still, Nicole was hungry for intellectual nourishment, knowing she lacked purpose in her studies, which inhibited her from realizing her full potential. By mid-semester, she was barely treading the choppy waters of Cervantes, Hobbes, and Locke, until, suddenly, to both her surprise and my own, Nicole reached terra firma with Jean Jacques Rousseau.

More coverage and reflection post-conference is forth coming.

Advertisements

4 Replies to “Write-up on ACTC’s 17th Annual Conference sponsored by Yale in New Haven, CT”

  1. Excellent post, Rashaan! It’s gratifying to hear that there are those voices in the academy who understand the importance of connection and multiple perspectives from different disciplines.

    “Nothing can be more abstract than, more unreal than what we actually see. We know that all we can see of the objective world, as human beings, never really exists as we understand it. Matter exists of course but has no intrinsic meaning of its own, such as the meanings that we attach to it. Only we know a cup is a cup, that a tree is a tree.” Giorgio Morandi, 1965.

    Giorgio Morandi’s works are part of the permanent collection at the Hirshhorn Gallery in Washington, D.C. Displayed along side one of his paintings is the above quote that captures the essence of theories and can be applied to understanding systems thinking. In order for humans to communicate with one another, there has to be a common frame of reference, a shared understanding, and a belief and trust in that understanding. In addition, there has to be a significant group of people who share that common frame of reference, thus validating the theory and creating a process and common language for communication. There is an undeniable power to naming and telling and it is critical to acknowledge the role of language as it frames one’s thinking and behavior and establishes a worldview for those who possess the power to influence thinking, decisions, and behavior. The simple act of naming and defining ultimately limits perception and understanding.

    1. Thanks Ma and Happy Easter!! I love these ideas from Morandi. I’m definitely interested in doing more presentations at conferences and workshops, and I will definitely incorporate the concepts you raise, particularly concerning language and values. I’ve got your quotes down and am brainstorming some possible ideas. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me but work I believe in because of you. Thanks for always being such a wonderful inspiration!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Emily. I’ve got a brand spanking new post coming up soon. I’m still reeling from this conference and trying to get wrap my mind over what went down.

"Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you"

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s