A big STOP sign
When I sat down to finally construct intro to psychology syllabus, my initial thought was: this can only be bad. The epistemologically violent content that the science of psychology has produced, such as theories and policies of eugenics, deeply alarmed me about the ethical and moral considerations in constructing and teaching a class around its central concepts.
Then I realized – a class is always better when there’s a debate. Rather than opening up the domes of my students minds and pouring in all the traditional psychological terms that they should (and in my opinion not) know, I decided to center the debates about some of these terms. The central objective of my psychology course is that students understand both mainstream and critical approaches to psychology through text that engages in its debates.
Is it that easy?
Not at all. The light-bulb effect never just happens (but do read this gendered debate about the concept). But in order for me to meet my mission and goal for this course I had to take my department’s seven subject requirements, as well as the critical approaches to psychological investigation, and compile them with three topical modules. Each of these: nature versus nurture; knowing for and knowing by; and identity, environment, and politics will scaffold students’ engagement within the debates about the science of psychology. Specifically, we will ask whether or not biological domains of the human are innate, natural, learned, or conditioned. We will interrogate what it means to conduct scientific investigation in psychology by understanding the conventions embedded in inquiry and method. Lastly, we will explore individual and collective experience and resistance through a variety of environments. In so doing, both critical and traditional approaches to understanding these topical modules will help students understand the historical and contemporary debates in psychology.
All is fair in love and war?
My love for (parts of) critical psychology is a war against the harmful approaches and effects of mainstream psychology. But being the ‘good’ teacher means more than just letting students know where the debates lie. It means anticipating where the questions of critical and mainstream psychology align or collide, and helping my students understand the “assumptions” of each (Eduardo Vianna, personal communication, February 2017). And it’s a battle that not only I will endure and navigate throughout my career, but also my students—at least throughout the next three months.