September 5, 2012

Restructuring the FP experience

First-Year Preceptorial (FP) has long been heralded as the foundation of the Knox curriculum. According to FP co-directors David Amor and Natania Rosenfeld, however, this foundation will now be more solid with the introduction of four new core texts.

Instead of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” “Cosmopolitanism” and “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” freshmen now read “The Complete Persepolis,” “The Dignity of Difference,” “A Human Being Died That Night” and “The Tempest.”

“We wanted to create a more coherent course…but still keep the theme ‘Conversations in a World of Strangers,’” Amor said.

The need for more coherence arose from the myriad objectives for FP, including strengthening critical thinking and writing skills, addressing questions about the human experience and introducing students to diverse perspectives on pertinent issues.

“FP is asked to do a lot of stuff,” Amor said. “At a faculty meeting last spring, we talked about adding sustainability as a dimension…but the general consensus was that there’s enough going on in FP. We need to get to a place where we can do well with the things we’re doing.”

In their fourth year as FP co-directors, Amor and Rosenfeld had originally planned to change one book every year to help keep things fresh for the professors, but they soon realized that the new books were not interchangeable with the old ones. Moreover, they had difficulty finding a set of books that fit together well.

When the FP Steering Committee met in the spring, there were so many suggestions for new books that the committee began considering replacing books they had originally thought they would keep. This led to the creation of an entirely new set of core texts.

“Students can talk less in class about the theme of the course and more about critical thinking,” Amor said. “There’s no struggling to find connections across texts.”

The new books represent a wide range of perspectives. For the first time in the history of the course, two core texts are written by women and several of the authors come from non-Western backgrounds. One book, “The Dignity of Difference,” also addresses the “world of strangers” from a positive religious perspective, which has been absent from FP in the past.

“In the past, many students thought that religion got really beat up [in FP],” Amor said. “We’re not espousing any particular religious position, but religion can still be significant.”

The other major concern of the committee in choosing the new books was increasing the interdisciplinary nature of FP. The inclusion of “The Tempest” exposes students to what Rosenfeld calls “a strong work of literary imagination” and “Persepolis,” an autobiography presented as a graphic novel, relies heavily on visual images to convey meaning.

“The course…has always been the strongest in the humanities and social sciences,” Rosenfeld said. “We really want to strengthen the arts.”

Amor and Rosenfeld feel confident enough about the new core texts to consider keeping them the same for at least another year, as they feel that the topics they address are especially relevant in today’s rapidly changing world.

“As Knox is working on diversifying the student body, it becomes very important to know how to have conversations with different types of people,” Rosenfeld said.

Still, both co-directors stress that perfecting FP is an ongoing process, and they are always interested in hearing what students have to say about the course.

“We want to hear more from students,” Amor said. “It will give us a better picture of what opinions are out there.”

Anna Meier

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