I’ve suggested sometimes that liberal arts professors should have to take a course from one of their colleagues every three or four years. Mostly I like that idea because it is a way to build in a commitment to generalism, to widening our horizons.
But I’m auditing my second course in studio arts now and the other thing that taking a class that’s well outside your existing knowledge and competencies reminds you is that it is really tough to sense that you’re a below-average student who simply doesn’t quite get it, tough to keep coming back and sticking with it. It’s especially tough when you can see that there are students who have an intuitive or highly developed sense for something you understand only dimly. It’s all the more difficult when you’re an old dog trying to learn new tricks, I’m sure, but I don’t think anybody likes that feeling of fumbling around in the dark. I think it’s especially frustrating when what’s involved is technical, when there are really some preliminary procedures that need to be done right in order to get to the layer where you are more in control of the results and more able to defend your choices as real choices instead of as mistakes that you’ve decided to relabel as purposeful.
I worry sometimes that here at Swarthmore and many similar institutions, we teach too much to the students who already get it, particularly when they get it the way that we ourselves get it. So the humbling reminder of what it’s like to be on the other side seems to me to be useful for refining our teaching as well as our knowledge.