Interdisciplinary Learning

I entered college in the fall of 1979 as a creative writing major, determined to write the next Great American Novel.  Over the course of my first two years there, I instead determined that my gift was not in writing fiction.  I had to choose a major by the beginning of my junior year, and in my disappointment I wasn’t sure where to go next. 

One of my professors suggested the American Studies program.  Any course related to United States history, politics, art, economics, literature, or sociology would count toward the major.  It seemed perfect for the indecisive state I was in, so I signed up.  I already had several courses from my freshman and sophomore years that were included, so I started tailoring my schedule to the program.

This turned out to be a great decision for me.  The experience of learning across the disciplines deepened my understanding of what each had to offer.  Reading The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick while I was studying the history of antebellum New England, learning about the life of Alexander Hamilton while I read The Federalist, and meeting the author of Farewell to Manzanar as I researched my thesis on the Japanese American soldiers of World War II made the American experience that much more real to me.  I loved the program so much that I decided to continue in it at the Master’s level after graduation.

Interdisciplinary programs are extremely enriching.  Whether you are interested in Chicano Studies, Women’s Studies, LGBTQ Studies, Asian Studies, African American Studies, Latin American Studies, or cross-subject life science and engineering programs, your knowledge and understanding of a subject will be all the more profound if you come at it from different angles. 

This is as enriching an experience for the teacher as it is for the student.  I have mentioned in previous blog entries the amazing high school Digital Arts and Humanities program I participated in as the social science instructor for eight years.  My colleagues in the English and technology departments teamed up with me to assign unique creative projects to our special group of students that combined what they were learning in all three classes.  They produced audio-visual profiles of famous Supreme Court cases, an animated story of a Nisei youth in an internment camp, a website on the Roaring Twenties, a mural of a famous peacemaker superimposed on a wall of the school campus, and many more.  I enjoyed watching and grading these great projects as much as I did planning and assigning them.

The writings of Rudyard Kipling are invaluable in understanding the growth of the British Empire.  Science fiction films of the 1950s help you see the paranoia of the Cold War era.  Woody Guthrie’s gripping ballads bring the hardships of the Dust Bowl to life.  The art of Andy Warhol explains much about 1960s pop culture.  The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms capture the angst of the “Lost Generation” that lived through the horror and futility of the First World War.  The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Elie Wiesel bring home the heartbreak of the Holocaust.

Ask your teachers about the possibility of cross-disciplinary projects.  Try to line up your class schedule so that your subjects intersect with one another.  Take advantage of special interdisciplinary programs offered at your school.  You will create great memories and build a solid foundation for lifelong learning.

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

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