Fostering Multidisciplinary Education

Fostering Multidisciplinary Education


Difficult Subjects:
K-12 Teaching Institute

In 2020-21, the Difficult Subjects: K-12 Teaching Institute — directed by Hasan Kwame Jeffries (History) — brought together 17 pre-K, kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school teachers from twelve schools and three school districts in Central Ohio for a year-long exploration of multidisciplinary approaches to understanding and teaching American slavery.

Multidisciplinary approaches demystify normative narratives. They help students unlearn misconceptions about a subject by providing them with different lenses through which they can interrogate what they believe to be true. The arts and humanities, in particular, offer new lines of sight, helping students see differently what they have already seen and think critically about what they have accepted as truth.

The institute had a profound impact on the participants. Shannon Griffin, a fourth-grade teacher at Olentangy Heritage Elementary School, reported that the institute provided her with “an entirely new way of teaching the subject.” Kristin Marconi, an eighth-grade American history teacher at Olentangy Orange Middle School, developed mapping and research activities for her students using the Freedom on the Move database. “I can’t wait to do this lesson in class and have the students create our own class map each year,” she said.

In a time when teachers are being pressured to dismiss rather than discuss historical experiences and people’s identities, teaching difficult subjects has become unusually hard. Multidisciplinary approaches provide a way out of this morass. For teachers, multi-disciplinary approaches enable teaching topics from different angles, thereby avoiding many current political pitfalls while still teaching challenging content honestly, accurately and effectively. In other words, art, music, literature and creative writing can all be used to teach a difficult social studies subject like slavery.

Institute Director and Associate Professor of History


Process as Transformation:
Graduate Team Fellowship Program

The 2021-22 Graduate Team Fellowship Program consists of eight students pursuing MFA or PhD degrees from disciplines across the arts and humanities. Faculty mentors Danielle Fosler-Lussier and Ila Nagar collaborated on the following responses about the transformative value of process as an impact of the arts and humanities.

How has your experience as GTF mentors shifted how you think about the impact of arts and humanities research and creative practices? In a cross-disciplinary conversation, talking about the “how” of our research — methods and practices — is invaluable. The fellows have come to understand intersecting methods and shared struggles, and in so doing have developed new ways to make their work legible for a wider audience. These conversations have also enabled the fellows to identify who they want to be as publicly-engaged scholars and artists.

How can the process of cross-disciplinary work be understood as integral to the outcomes? A large artistic project and a dissertation may have a similar scope of work, but the process can be very different — or it can seem different on the surface, with techniques of organizing and sharing knowledge underneath that might be in common. For instance, When Kortney Morrow shared her approach to the micro-work of building a poem and the macro-work of deciding how several poems fit together, she discussed how each poem feels like a different shape or color and how it took time to figure out the book’s rhythm. This tactile understanding helped those writing dissertations — because acknowledging that part-whole relationship is helpful in a large project and because thinking about the work in tangible ways makes the process of organizing knowledge less abstract.

How might we understand humanistic methods and practices as drivers of social change? By demystifying disciplinary assumptions — by translating methods and practices across disciplinary lines — students have come to a deeper understanding of methods as pivotal to shaping the impact and outcomes of their work. The Graduate Team Fellows have come to see their methods as a form of action in the world that have ethical consequences. They are conscious that they are generating knowledge with and for the communities with whom they are in conversation. Working together has cultivated a belief that processes of sense-making are best done in community, and that these processes are central to how the arts and humanities foster social change.