A Matter of Course: Thinking through Terrorism

April 3, 2012

TEAM-TAUGHT BY:

Richard Boothby, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and Michael Franz, Ph.D.,
Professor of Political Science

FOCUS:

The course examines the causes and effects of contemporary terrorism, ongoing efforts to combat it, and critical perspectives on the downsides of the War on Terror. The two professors intentionally offer opposing perspectives as the class explores the topic. By the end of each class, students and faculty are engaged in open debate.

WHY TEAM-TEACH?

This is the fifth course Boothby and Franz have taught together. “I think we have a recipe that works,” Boothby says. “We choose topics that are engaging yet genuinely two-sided.” Those topics have included the origins of war, Plato, Socrates, and Marx, and the evaluations from the team-taught courses have been among the strongest either one has received.

DIFFERENT INTERESTS:

Franz focuses on the mind and motives of the terrorist and understanding the roots and threats of terrorism, while Boothby concentrates on the mind of the terrorized and the dangers posed by the war on terrorism itself.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

“We try to identify the salient inner tensions and conflicts and basically personify them,” Boothby says. The professors are close personal friends, which is key to success, they say, but they also genuinely, openly disagree in the classroom. “We seek out things on which we’re not in complete agreement,” Franz says. “One would lose the advantage of the team-teaching dynamic if you were just congratulating one another.”

NEW PERSPECTIVE:

“As students listen to one of us speak, they’re always thinking about how the other one is hearing it,” Franz says. “Rick will say something provocative and 20 of the 30 pairs of eyes will turn toward me.”

NO MORE COMFORT ZONE:

The students in the classes—primarily seniors—find they have to move beyond the typical note-taking, listening mode. And Boothby and Franz say the style of their class wouldn’t be wholly comfortable for many professors either. “Over the years faculty can become very ensconced in their own fiefdom,” Franz said. “Team-teaching deprives faculty of being the sole authority.”

LIKE A PRIZE FIGHT:

“It’s a tense atmosphere in the classroom,” Franz says. “But not without an undercurrent of glee,” Boothby adds.

FOR CHRISTMAS:

Boothby’s wife gave both professors Hulk Hogan inflatable punching bags. The two also partner on the tennis and squash courts and enjoy wine tastings together.

TEXTS INCLUDE:

Works range from Samuel Huntington, Bruce Hoffman, and Eric Voegelin, to Karl Marx, Noam Chomsky, and even Osama Bin Laden.

STUDENT SAYS:

A double biology and chemistry major with a double minor in philosophy and Spanish, Matt Blackburn, ’12, was interested in learning more about terrorism. “I’m still trying to grapple with how such a horrendous mindset can occur, and how people can brutally murder innocent people.” This is Blackburn’s second team-taught class with Franz and Boothby. “You get two very well-grounded opinions from two very different specializations. It’s good for the students, because it shows it is possible to have very divergent and well-formed opinions about something that is a difficult issue, and it also teaches you to not necessarily buy everything that a professor tells you at face value.”

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