Curran & Takata


This is a course in general education, meaning that the content should be basic to all that you learn in college. Because the goal is to teach you something about social interaction processes, it is one of the most important courses we can offer.

I expect to give you usable knowledge, knowledge on which you should rely every day in all your interactions with other people.

You come here with ideas about how to interact. You have formed those ideas without even being aware of forming them. In class discussions, we will talk about the ideas you have and the ideas other men and women, black, white, brown, yellow and all other colors and races and ethnic groups have had on the same ideas. You are not expected to exchange your own ideas for theirs. You are expected to question your own ideas, to see whether you find them tenable in the cold light of logic brought to bear by other people. You are here this semester to question, not to answer. Your grades will be based on the sophistication and thoroughness of your questions, whether or not you have any answers.

Classroom rules: Because this is a class to explore your own beliefs and question them, in the light of the whole body of knowledge of all humans, I will not permit an argument in the classroom where anyone claims to have the only true and correct answer. If you wish to express an opinion, you may do so in one of two ways: 1. You may say I think "..." because of .... authority and ... authority. The authority itself may range from the authority to tradition, a Bible, for example, to research authority in the latest articles on the subject. or 2. You may say "I believe "..." but I cannot explain why I believe it." If you choose the first method, we will examine your authorities and compare them to others. You do not have to choose. You are required to learn that authorities differ on everything! If you choose the second, we will explore the authorities together that could have led you to the belief.

There will be no "I'm right. You're wrong." in this classroom. I, the teacher, have no divine right claim to truth. All I have is a very good knowledge of sources of authority. Right and wrong lie within the realm of some greater being, if there is such a greater being. It has not been given to us to "know" the universe with any certainty. Beliefs are not knowledge. Beliefs, once questioned and examined by knowledge, are the business of faith.

It has been said that there are three primary ways of knowing: intuition, authority, scientific knowledge. The great leaps of knowledge have usually come of intuition, such as Galileo's discovery that the earth is not flat. I accept, on authority and scientific knowledge that the earth is round. I cannot intuit it. Intuition, though important, immensely important, cannot be tested, sometimes cannot be shown. I am not asking you to reject your beliefs [such as that God exists or does not exist] on the basis of authority or scientific evidence. I am asking you to become aware of which beliefs are founded on intuition and which on authority and scientific method.

I can see how someone could still doubt that the earth is round. Sure looks flat. But that's a scientific and authoritybased fact that has been shown scientifically to be wrong. There is, however, a flat earth society, whose members believe the earth is flat. They are entitled to that belief. But they should know that their belief now counters both scientific knowledge and overwhelming authority. That doesn't mean that education can or should change their belief. As in the "Twilight Zone," they may be right. Galileo was, when everyone's senses told them he was wrong. And he was the only one who dared to believe he was right. The second Hollis Professor of Natural Sciences at Harvard was almost fired because he preached that hurricanes or earthquakes were not God's mysterious punishment visited upon man, but could actually be explained by the physics of meteorology and electricity. [Samuel Eliot Morrison, Three Centuries of Harvard]

The impossible is what does not fit into our present belief system. The only sure way to stop us from threatening the lives of those like Galileo, who have remarkable insights, is to learn to allow ourselves to question. We must learn to respect intuition, as well as authority and scientific experimentation. And we must learn tolerance in our belief systems.

Updated August 23, 1999