Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is Research Success Related to Sucessful Teaching?

I applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities' pilot program called "Enduring Questions" which funded the development of courses dedicated to enduring questions. My class was called "Can This Class Be Taught?" and asked students to think about the role of the teacher and what teachers can and cannot do for their students (and thereby what students have to do for themselves...). I selected readings from Plato to Friere and the structure would have students pair theoretical discussion with a practical application -- can you be taught to love art?, can you be taught to be a great athlete?, can you be taught to be creative?, can you be taught to be moral?, can you be taught to be a leader?... It was a class I thought would be fun to teach and the fact that the government might give me a hunk of cash to develop it only encouraged me. So, I sent in my applicaiton and got rejected.

But what struck me was the first sentence of the first review. The reviewer rated the propsal excellent and lists as the very first piece of evidence for the likely success of the course that I have astrong record of publication with a forthcoming book from the University of Chicago Press less than a decade after his Ph.D. I was caught off-gaurd and just atared at the comment. What in the world does one have to do with the other?

Is there a relation? Is success in one evidence that one is a hard worker and thereby likely to put in the requisite effort? Of course, that effort is split between research and teaching, so effort in one might mean less effort dedicated to the other. Is it that you cannot teach well unless you keep up-to-date in your field? But surely, the details of Plato scholarship are not really in play when doing a freshman's first reading of The Republic? Is it that both require a sense of intellectual life and curiosity?

In higher ed, especially in the liberal artsy joints, we frequently hear that you need to be a scholar to be a scholar-teacher, but why? Is there a correlation and is it a positive or a negative one? Is scholarly success a mark of likely pedagogical success?