New Courses at Simon’s Rock: Paving the Way

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by Matthew Meyer '12

You can ask almost anyone on campus, or read a couple of brochures, and you’ll figure out that Bard College at Simon’s Rock is not your typical college. It’s different, and proud to be. That uniqueness is clear in the titles of several new classes in the fall course guide.

Two-faces-1.jpgJust in this first semester, Simon’s Rock had eleven new courses in its arsenal. Students interested in literature or psychology can take The Face in the Mirror: Literary Forms of the Double, or History and Systems of Psychology. If African-American studies or economics is more your style, there are always Black Radical Thought and Economics of Development.

For a first-person perspective on the new courses, I attended a class and spoke with a couple of professors.

The Face in the Mirror, taught by Jamie Hutchinson, allows students to study literary works that focus on the idea of the double or ‘doppelganger’, thereby developing an understanding of the different forms, meanings, and functions of the double as a literary device. It also exposes the double to a variety of psychological perspectives that can aid in literary interpretation.

The class seemed typical at first. Jamie began by giving an overview lecture connecting the theme of most recent novel, Jekyll and Hyde, to the previous novels read. About ten minutes in, I realized what was different about this class. No one was speaking. No one interrupted with questions and comments; Simon’s Rock classes are known for their lively discussions and debates. The class seemed mesmerized by Jamie’s words. When they finally did speak up, their comments were laser-focused on the topic.

As the class continued, two students read presentations on aspects of Jekyll and Hyde. Each presentation was followed by twenty minutes or more of discussion. Everyone in the room contributed, elaborating on what the presenter had said, or giving a contradictory opinion for discussion. Jamie contributed as a member of the group, but didn’t have to intervene as an instructor at any point.

Two-faces-2.jpg“The class is oriented around the students’ interpretive perspectives,” Jamie explained. “Besides modeling various strategies of literary interpretation, The Face in the Mirror offers an opportunity to pursue the question ‘What does it mean to be human?’ from a particular angle.” Students are an integral part of the classroom process. More often than not, the angle for discussion is set by the students and the class revolves around how they interpret the reading both individually and collectively.

I also spoke with Mohammad Moeini-Feizabadi, instructor of the new Economics of Development, to get further perspective on how professors view teaching a new course.

“I think the first time you teach a course, the syllabus is seen as a work in progress. I’m not going to change it significantly, but I’m going to revise because of the feedback I’ve gotten from the students. You need to see their reaction. To a very large degree, the students are enthusiastic, but they have little background in economics.”The professors become pioneers as they lead the way in a new class with their trusty followers – the students. But with this chance for glory comes great responsibility. The pressure of success and failure rests on the shoulders of the instructors and their trusty course guide…right? Not quite – this ship has new mapmakers.

“There’s definitely pressure,” Mohammed said. “By nature, it’s a very difficult course to teach. It’s very comprehensive and very relevant because not all the world is developed, and not all countries are advanced. But I have to teach this course in an efficient way so that the next generation of students, when they think about taking this course, hears a positive history.”

He continued, “When a course is taught on a regular basis, it creates a history in the institution, which is passed to the next generation of students. The students get some sort of background or knowledge because a dorm-mate, or a classmate who has already taken it.”

“Most of the feedback is natural. I have been told I can do a mid-semester evaluation, which I’m going to do. But I have to take in many factors, like their body language and the questions they ask in class.”

In Jamie’s course, the class evolved and developed based on what the students understood. In Mohammad’s class, which was structured around the discussion of factual information, the students helped develop the course and give a new way to lead it. But it’s a work in progress.

By jumping into a new class in which they’re interested, not only do the students bring life to the class, but they give their own flare to it, paving the way for future generations.