Sometimes at scientific meetings, in between sessions, I’ll sneak in a few lines of the Aeneid or The Republic, whatever the upcoming Honors read is. This looks pretty strange to most of my microbiologist peers and I am almost always asked, “Why are you reading that?” followed by “why would you be teaching a Western Civilization course?” Sometimes I imagine they are thinking, “How ridiculous, she must be completely out of her element.” And I am. But being out of my element is the first reason why I love teaching Honors. The second reason is my answer to my scientist peers: “I know it may not seem to make any sense, but actually the materials are all interconnected. It doesn’t matter whether the students are learning about gene regulation or Plato’s theory of forms. The learning goals are the same and my role is the same.”
Sometimes reading Honors texts is a struggle for me. I am certainly more comfortable reading about mechanisms of homologous recombination than Plato’s The Republic. But it is the struggle that draws me to these courses and to the material. And I know from my own experience that when I struggle, I am about to do my best work.
My goal in the classroom is to help students learn not only to embrace struggle and challenge, but to seek challenge in their learning pursuits. The challenges students face in science courses, research laboratories, or Honors civilization courses are the same. And the process of students accepting the struggle and nudging the fear aside to reach a deeper understanding of the molecular or metaphysical world is also the same. I love watching students use their deepening understanding to solve new problems in the laboratory or to make new connections in the civilization classroom. Their ideas are different from mine and are inspiring.
Teaching in the Honors Civilizations series has made me a better scientist and a better educator. One might think that a seminar focused on reading classic literature and a research laboratory course each pull from different strengths, and in some ways they do. However, in my experience, the study of one enhances the other. Beneath the structure of the academic material, there are concepts that are all interconnected. I love bringing Honors concepts into the science classroom, particularly Socrates. In a classroom, our goal is to collectively come as close as possible to some truth. Whether that truth is related to the biology of a microorganism or how we understand the nature of reality, students reach that goal by achieving a new level of awareness of themselves, their peers and the world around them. I love teaching Honors. And I can’t imagine being an effective scientist or an educator in its absence.