This spring semester, Dr. Jonathan Sanford, president of the university, and Dr. Scott Crider, professor of English, have been co-teaching a class called Literature and Philosophy of Vice and Virtue. It is the first time they have taught together, but not the first time they have worked together. When Sanford was dean of UD’s Constantin College, Crider was his associate dean. There, they discovered a very real friendship.
When their time working together in the dean’s office came to an end, the two professors sought an opportunity to collaborate again. Given Sanford’s philosophical expertise and Crider’s literary knowledge as well as their enjoyment of the other’s speciality, they decided to teach a course on the intersection between their two fields of study.
“There’s an age-old quarrel between philosophy and poetry,” Sanford said, “and we wanted to explore the disciplinary differences and complementarity between our two approaches, especially insofar as they reflect on the good life and the role of virtue and vice and thinking about how to live well.”
Bernadette Pennell, a senior psychology major, says that seeing the fields overlap in the classroom has been illuminating: “The two fields kind of meet and then say, actually, we’re not that different. We just address different aspects and ways of going about researching the same thing, which is the human person.”
Like other collaborative classes led by multiple professors, Sanford and Crider are both present for every class. One professor will deliver a lecture on their material, then discuss it with the class and the other professor.
Experiencing the dynamic between the professors in the classroom has been a highlight for many of the students taking the course. It’s a privilege to watch, and they do a great job of engaging with each other while still presenting the material and engaging the class, too,” said Ryan Connor, a junior history, English and classics triple major.
Gabe Farrell, a senior philosophy major, said of the professors: “They both have minds that work in shades of nuance, that have been trained in ways that emphasize the strengths of their particular disciplines. But,” he said, “the other professor’s discipline is not alien to them.”
Co-teaching presents advantages for both the professors and the students. “I do think the education at its best is dialectical,” said Crider. Having two professors in the classroom exposes students to the fact that people with authority can disagree reasonably and civilly.
“When you have two people, then you have divided authority,” Crider continued. “[Students] also have to begin exercising their own independent judgment much much more quickly, because you don’t have to be in a room with two professors for very long before they disagree.”
The professors have been just one piece of the student’s enjoyment of the course. The material covers a large swath of history and involves many works from the core curriculum. This gives the students the chance to reapproach some core material from a more mature perspective and has made the course one of reflection for those taking the class, most of whom are upperclassmen.
Farrell said, “I see this as a tremendous way to cap off a UD education because it’s basically a grand tour through how to lead a life well lived.”
Connor said, “It just made me think about my education here more holistically, which I think going forward for the next year is going to be really powerful on the rest of the classes.”
The classroom discussion is only the beginning of the education this course provides for many of the students. Emma Roberts, a junior politics major, said, “You leave the classroom and you start thinking about the philosophy that we talked about, and then the literature we talked about, and then you’re seeing these things play out in your own life and talking about it with your classmates, and then that’s when it all comes together.”
Sanford and Crider hope to continue the course in the future. Crider said, “We’re hoping class will become a kind of tradition in the way a lot of really fine elective courses [have].”
Not only does the class shed a new light on the Core and introduce students to an example of intelligent and friendly collaboration among disagreeing experts, but it is also a pleasure for those involved. Crider said: “It increases the degree of festivity, I think. For some reason, having more than one teacher in the room just turns into a party.”