Interdisciplinearity LO22681

Steve Eskow (
Wed, 15 Sep 1999 23:36:49 -0600

Replying to LO22661 --

Tom, my problem with your unpacking is that I can't wys afind the
connection between the problems you describe and multi,inter, trans, and
cross as the solutions.

Let me illustrate.

>First, there is, I believe, a difference in the education system between
>teaching and research, where the research is driven by many factors in
>general and promotion and tenure in particular.

Let's for the moment assume that your analysis is largely true, and few of
those scholars and researchers who spend their lives studying art, or
music, or molecules, or social phenomena do so because they care about art
or music, etc, but are careerists driven only by promotion and tenure.

It would seem like a solution would be changing the rules of advancement:
refusing tenure and promotion to those who spent too much time on research
and too little on teaching. How would requiring the teacher to take part
in transdisciplinary rather than single disciplinary teaching change the
tendencies you criticize if the rules of the game remain the same? All
that would help, it seems to me, is that the teachers would neglect the
teaching of their transdisciplinary courses in favor of their research as
they now neglect their single disciplinary courses.


>Secondly, you have a lot of backers for disciplinarity today as we see
>with the struggle to include the humanities and "liberal studies" in the
>curriculum not even trying to integrate the humanities into disciplinary
>courses, particularly the science and engineering curriculum. The
>pressure is so strong that many engineering schools have even created
>their own English courses. What this specialization ha led to is another
>path that could be explored

This paragraph, Tom, needs further unpacking.

Let's see if I have it at all right, or close to right.

As I read you, on one level,the lit faculty wants more lit in the
engineering curriculum, the psych teachers more psych,etc., the math
teachers want more calculus, and want physics to be calculus-based
physics, while the engineering faculty wants more time devoted to
engineering curricula and competence.

In one view, Tom, all we have is a turf battle between the various
disciplines for a larger chunk of curricular time.

Or do you want to present this as a battle between the virtuous liberal
artists who want only to see humanely educated engineers and technocratic
engineers who don't care about liberal values and humanism?

Would two years of English and two of sociology for all engineering majors
be a good way to go? Would we be graduating better engineers? Better
citizens? Both?

Would more English and less engineering make the curriculum

>Third, we see many lay persons concerned about issues from economics to
>the environment who need to be able to cross into new territories with
>facility. Similarly, many professionals have reinvented themselves with
>an equivalent of several degrees in fields rangng from chemistry to
>economic policy implying the need for many to cross disciplines. Again we
>have raised both the question of building a cross disciplinary platform
>and a strong scaffolding of liberal studies.

Here,Tom, I begin to sense a possible connection between a recognizable
social problem and bringing the disciplines together.

The fallacy, Tom (I think) lies in believing that the problem in creating
cross and transdisciplinary r&d teams to work issues of poverty and the
environment and health is somehow related to, and curable by, the design
of the undergraduate curriculum.

That is: the assumption is that the reason economists resist working with
the Freudians and the chemists is because they didn't study integrated
courses that looked at problems from the Freudian, the Darwinian, the
Platonic, and the Marxist perspectives at the same time.

There is now clearly a move toward bringing specialists together in
crossdisciplinary efforts to work on human problems--like NASA.

If the incentives are provided, the specialists can and will work
together, and learn each others languages and perspectives.

The issue, then, becomes: is it better to have people to learn their own
discourses, their own disciplines, in depth first, and integrate after
they are fluent specialists, or to try to integrate them earlier--say,
while they are undergraduates?

And that is an issue of practical pedagogy, not of morality.



Steve Eskow <>

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