You all know that I love Penn, but I want to say something about the fragmentation of my course-to-course experience. My courses have never addressed one another--indeed, in a way they are designed to stand alone. They are competing and even contradictory, without anyone (teacher or students) being really aware of it or anyway really concerned about the consequences of such fragmentation. (When I was a freshman, my friends' response to this, I think, was simply to walk away from intellectual effort--and to indulge in "social life" that had nothing to do with classes, which, anyway, only affected me while I was in them, for a very few hours per week.) My experience at Penn can alas be characterized by a series of wholly disconnected, wholly discrete experiences spread out over exactly the number of courses I have taken. Only now that I am engaged in an intense extra- and cross-curricular intellectual exchange, made possible by intense after-hours e-mail and related out-of-class e-venues that augment every in-class hour across the whole range of my courses, am I aware that I have never been asked to integrate what I have learned, and I have gotten away with a string of A's without ever once acting on the impulse to intregate. I do feel that impulse but even now don't quite know what to do with it. I can't tell you how many times I have sat in an English class and assumed one set of things; then fifteen minutes later I sat in a History class and assumed another (different) set of things--never wondering whether it was either my or my professors' obligation to talk to each other about these fundamentally conflicting assumptions; I just accepted them as "different" in a mental act that I now think is a kind of repression of a hard-to-face reality--namely, that my professors disagree!--that I have intellectual choices! "Interdisciplinarity," though it's often commended as one of the things we do, still feels as if it involves a rather mechanical walk from Bennett Hall to College Hall, followed by an earnest declaration of an English-History double major--which of course, without the kind of innovations we've been attempting, would only heighten the feeling of dislocation or separateness so many of undergrads at Penn feel. I wish this innovation had come when I was a first-year student. I imagine that if the structure of this seminar is reproduced around the university, the students who come along after me might assume that the boundaries between Departments and Schools are artificial--rather than have to unlearn, as I have had to do, the assumption that the boundaries between Departments and Schools are natural.
Last modified: Monday, 09-Apr-2001 20:20:46 EDT