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Philosophy in the Arts

Professor Erfani teaches the course Meaning and Purpose in the Arts, a course far different from the other general education classes. It is a philosophical 200 level class inserted into cluster number 1, making it hard for Prof. Erfani because students will reach his class with no previous philosophical knowledge. Because it has no supplement, and therefore students enter with no foundations, Prof. Erfani can’t make any assumptions and has to structure the syllabus so that the students will understand the subject even if they know nothing about it. Through different teaching techniques, and a very specific syllabus, Prof. Erfani is able to reach the goals he believes come with teaching a general education class.

Prof. Erfani believes that the goal of the class is to teach students what philosophy can do within the arts, but more importantly to get students to become critical learners and take responsibilities for their beliefs. At the beginning of the semester, Prof. Erfani will start by covering different philosophers with different theories on what art is. He will then narrow the topic into specific definitions of art, all of which eventually fail. This, he believes, will demonstrate to students how complicated the matter is and will encourage them to come up with their own definitions and approaches to what art is.

Due to the difficult structure of the course, Prof. Erfani relies on Blackboard for everyday readings, instead of using a specific book. This allows the professor to choose the correct readings that apply to that day’s lecture because he believes that no single text comes close to what is needed to understand the class. Students will have to come to class prepared for discussion, by answering two questions about the reading, all of which are included in the syllabus. This gives students that have not studied philosophy a second chance each day; if they did not understand one of the readings they have another chance because next day’s topic is completely different.

He will also divide the course into different segments where he will go into the different types of art, such as music and film, and read philosophical approaches to these subjects. He will also leave 2 to 3 days open in the syllabus, where he will allow students to choose their own art forms for in depth study. This semester, the students chose theatre/musicals and graffiti. Prof. Erfani found that this helped engage the students in the course, it made many usually quiet students speak up and it allowed students to guide their own learning.

Prof. Erfani believes one of his best strategies, which he also uses in all his other gen ed classes, is an essay which is done at the beginning and end of class. The first day of class, he will ask his students to write a two page essay and tell what art is; this will be done with no research, just the student’ perspective. At the end of the semester, students will then review this essay in a three to four page assignment, where they will be able to apply the knowledge they acquired throughout the semester. Students can either change their minds, and will have to explain why they did, or stick to their original conclusions and defend their perspectives with better support. Prof. Erfani thinks this essay will demonstrate to the students how much they have learned and their particular evolution after the class has ended.

Prof. Erfani does not focus his class on getting students to be critical thinkers, but rather get them to be critical thinkers through good writing. He will reach this goal by sending several assignments throughout the semester. Students will have to write responses to readings and different assignments which will make them read the required articles more carefully and therefore come prepared to the class with discussion comments and questions.

Although a difficult class to teach, Prof. Erfani has managed to structure the course so that students are focused on the topic and engaged on the subject. He believes it is the teacher’s job to make cohesion of the topic, and he achieves this through a complex syllabus that clarifies where the course is going.