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Team -teaching: Ideal of civic debate informs PSCI class

by Clarence B. Smith, staff writer

 

Centuries ago the Athenians believed that true knowledge was acquired through civic debate. Ideas were passed back and forth and options were presented to the moderate observers, who were then able to make their own decisions.

If only this held true today. In the modern pantheons of academia, many professors find it hard to step outside of their comfort zones. Most believe that it’s more functional to teach from the syllabus and the book, and too few allow contrary opinions, especially student opinions, of academic legitimacy.

 

But at what cost? What happens when the students are only allowed to learn from the perspective of one mind, from the subjectivity of one voice? The consequences of such conventions are the hindrance of questions and curiosity and the inevitability of intellectual stagnation.

Enter Dr. Gregory Gaydos and Dr. Phillip King. To many, the idea of team teaching seems like something best suited for elementary school instructors who need twice the normal energy to corral supercharged youth. However, in the case of HPU’s PSCI 1400, American Political Systems, Gaydos and King use it to balance opposing political ideologies, thus opening the floodgates of intellectual curiosity and enabling expression of opinions. All of this generates civil discourse, as opposed to petty argument, both increasing the excitement of student participation and proving that two heads are indeed better than one.

The original idea for their team teaching stems from their past discussions. Gaydos explained: “We would sit around the table [at the East-West Center] during the Vietnam War. There was a fascist, an Asian, a guy from Pakistan, and a Canadian conservative, and we would argue day after day....”

“ And there were days when we’d be there from 8 a.m. for breakfast and argue, missing our classes and staying past dinner.” King added.

And this is the nature of the class. Each session begins with skimming the newspaper for a current event followed by each professor stating his opinion on the topic. Gaydos, conservative even in his dress, effervescently rallies the right wing, dancing around the room and mockingly imitating left wing gurus. In contrast, King, mild mannered in his approach, rarely moves and focuses on facts of the left wing. This is the classic Hegelian process of thesis and antithesis leading to a new synthesis in student’s minds as an idea is explained, challenged, and eventually renewed.

In the early stages of the class, few students participate in the discussions, but as civic debate becomes more comfortable, individuals begin to interject their feelings and positions.

Both professors believe that students will learn more from opposing viewpoints than just one perspective. In a diverse academic community such as HPU, the Hegelian model allows for an even broader range of opinion, as most classes include the potential perspectives of European and Asian students.

However, as is the case with all groundbreaking ideas, practical problems arise in the formation of such courses. “It’s not cost effective,” said King. “We’re supposed to have 40 to 50 students in the class,” but often, he explained, they have around 30.

The ongoing cycle of debate also increases the chance of student discord. Gaydos doesn’t see this as an issue; he said: “We’re modeling civic debate. We’re showing that it’s okay to disagree without resorting to fisticuffs or anger. You can disagree and still be friends who think differently.”

Sadly, few professors seem willing to adapt this model of teaching. When the two professors held a faculty meeting to discuss their ideas of team teaching, fewer than 20 of their colleagues came to show support.

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