Stephen Brauer


Statement of Teaching Philosophy

I see teaching in terms of an ongoing process of inquiry. I approach each course as an opportunity to help students delve into new topics or questions. My goal is to help students learn the value of their own questions, to take them seriously and to pursue their curiosity, but I also want them to learn the discipline necessary for an intellectually rigorous engagement with those questions. Accordingly, I recognize that the product that the student offers – a presentation, a term paper, a final exam – must result at least in part from my guidance and my expertise. I seek to create space for the students to pursue their own interests within the context of the course as I have set it up, and I also know that my teaching need always be conceptually challenging and intentional in its structure and in its process. This is how I define student-centered teaching. Hand in hand with this is my thinking about the evidence of learning. I try to construct assignments in which the evidence of learning isn’t just an instrument that reveals what content the student has been able to master, but instead an assignment through which the student is able to utilize critical thinking and writing skills to articulate his/her sense of the content or its application.

I do not imagine my research to be fully separate from my teaching, but instead try to recognize the multivalent ways in which they complement one another.  I often find ideas for further scholarly inquiry through my interaction with students and through my construction of a course or a specific classroom exercise.  At the same time, the experience of research and inquiry that is central to the scholarly endeavor invariably leads to discoveries that I can take back to the classroom not only in terms of specific content, but in terms of philosophical or methodological approach to that content. This approach to my work is one of the great benefits of working at a school where teaching and scholarship are both valued and valorized.

At the heart of this synthesis of my teaching and research is my belief in the value and worth of interdisciplinarity – as a subject, as a methodology, and as a philosophy.  I know that our work as educators, as scholars, and as members of the college community is always dependent on interactions with others. My own recognition of the value of interdisciplinarity – in terms of a commitment to collaboration, a recognition of the connections beyond departments and disciplines, the application of new methodologies to my teaching, and the merging of differing genres and media in my scholarship – has led to new pathways and possibilities in my career.

All of my courses invoke interdisciplinarity as a theoretical approach to a topic, but also embody it in the content of the course itself and the reading materials that I assign. In my classes, I teach fiction and nonfiction, film and literature, scholarly texts and commercial ones, television, photography, fine art, and sporting events. With all of these, I try to place them into a context that allows the students to see what is at stake in the text and how the context can open up our understanding of what that text represents or dramatizes. For instance, in “American Crime Narratives,” I have students read Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? After discussing the novel, I next have the students read some of the articles written in the 1920s and 1930s by members of the esteemed Chicago School of Sociology. From these, students learn about the concept of social ecology and the role of determinism in the emergence of modernism in America and they also learn how that thinking closely aligns with the events of McCoy’s novel and provides a way into an analysis of what McCoy is up to in his book. From this type of work, I try to demonstrate how cultural production in America does not happen in a vacuum, in that artists and writers and thinkers have always been engaged in some of the central questions of their time. Moreover, from this type of teaching I try to model how the work of interdisciplinarity can open up how we understand the very culture in which we live.

Self-reflection and the application of learning are two pedagogical goals that I highly value, in that I most want my students to be able to carry on with what they learn in my class after their course with me is over. In one sense I am hoping to teach my students how to ask a question just as much as I’m teaching them what they should ask. I try to cultivate, encourage, nurture, facilitate, and model ways of inquiry for my course and the content in it that they can then apply to other contexts. Moreover, through an explicit articulation of what the students are learning in terms of content as well as in terms of skills, I try to draw intentional connections between the work they are doing and the learning that is taking shape. I believe that this articulation can be instructive in helping them recognize correspondences between what they are learning with me and what they are learning in other courses. In other words, in helping students develop reading, writing, and critical thinking skills while moving them toward a mastery of the content of the course, I am striving to help them forge an integration of their learning across the curriculum so that they can recognize that skills and content that they learn in one course – quantitative and/or qualitative reasoning, the history of labor in America – can and should connect and inform what they are doing in their other courses. I want my students to understand that, in a similar way to how cultural production does not happen in a vacuum, knowledge and inquiry does not stop at the border of one particular academic discipline.

For more about my work in the Fellows Program, please see my report on Blogging, Student Engagement, and Student Success.