Wednesday, August 27, 2014

'Minds on Fire'

Inside Higher Ed
August 27th, 2014

The student didn’t probably didn’t mean for her words to sting.
"[A]ll classes are sorta boring,” she said. “Yours was less boring than most.”
But sting they did – a searing capstone to what Mark C. Carnes already knew was a lost semester, both for him and for his students. They said they liked the class well enough, but their disengagement – the blank stares, the palpable ennui – said otherwise.
No one was necessarily to blame; after all, Carnes remembered, he, too, had found his own undergraduate coursework “sorta boring.” And the sentiment went way back in American higher education, he thought; Henry Adams wrote in 1918 that his Harvard professors had “taught little, and that little ill.”
But the notion of being boring ate away at Carnes in the winter break after he heard those words. Luckily, the professor of history at Barnard College didn’t stay down for long. He set about crafting a radical new way of teaching that, nearly two decades later, has a kind of cult following among professors in the U.S. and abroad.

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