Fifty Years of Interdisciplinary Teaching in Academe

One Professor's Pedagogical Tips and Reflections

by Robert J. Nash (Author)
©2018 Textbook X, 242 Pages


There is no book exactly like Fifty Years of Interdisciplinary Teaching in Academe: One Professor’s Pedagogical Tips and Reflections. Very few professors have taught for half a century. Even fewer have written books on pedagogy from a personal narrative perspective and in plain English, without a particular cause to promote or axe to grind. Countless numbers of books have ruminated on the past, present, and future of higher education, but few authors have written their books as memoirs meant for both an academic and general audience. Few actually offer concrete tips drawn from years of personal experience for classroom teaching, mentoring, constructing curricula, courses, and programs, working with colleagues, and creating an interdisciplinary philosophy of educational theory and practice. Few of these books can be generalized to a number of helping professions. Teaching and learning happen in all the human service professions, not just in the American university.
This book is grounded largely in author Robert J. Nash’s experiences, both positive and negative. Nash is less interested in propounding or expounding and more concerned with narrating his always-evolving stories of being an interdisciplinary professor who has experienced both success and struggle but who has always emerged as inspired and rejuvenated by his work, and the work of his students, in higher education. This book is a personal-narrative celebration of all that is and can be wonderful about the American university, including students, colleagues, and administrators. Nash concentrates on possibility rather than on liability but strives always to present an honest picture of higher education (both its strengths and weaknesses) and his place in it throughout the decades. The result of Fifty Years of Interdisciplinary Teaching in Academe is a vote of confidence for faculty, staff, and students.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Fifty Years of Interdisciplinary Teaching in Academe
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Who Am I?
  • My Most Important Professional Identity: Interdisciplinary Teacher
  • General Outline of My 50-Year Evolution as an Educator
  • My Intended Readership
  • Books by Robert J. Nash
  • References
  • Section I. From Essentialism to Reconstructionism to Existentialism: The Early Impact of Theodore Brameld’s Work on My Philosophy of Education
  • Chapter 1. An Introduction to the Sociopolitical Vision of Theodore Brameld (1904–1987)
  • The Proper Purpose of Education at All Levels Is Political Transformation
  • Where I Stand Today on Brameld’s Sociopolitical Reconstructionism
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • Chapter 2. To Be an Effective Educator, One Must First Be a Philosopher of Education
  • Philosophy Starts With What We Believe
  • Brameld’s Four Philosophies of Education
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • Chapter 3. Looking at Specific Strategies in Brameld’s Teaching Philosophy
  • Brameld’s Triad of Strategies for Education at All Levels
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • References
  • Chapter 4. My Philosophical Evolution to Postmodern Existentialism
  • Brameld’s Later Interest in Existentialism
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • Tempering My Postmodernism With Existentialism: A Personal Reflection
  • References
  • Chapter 5. What Does the Quest for Meaning Have to Do With Interdisciplinary Study and Practice?
  • The Quest for Meaning in Higher Education
  • Brameld, the Interdisciplinary Educator
  • Deep-Meaning Learning and Constructivist Education
  • My 2018 Philosophy of Education Syllabus on Meaning-Making
  • Philosophy of Education: The Search for Meaning Introduction
  • Course Content
  • How to Communicate With One Another via Moral Conversation
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • References
  • Section II: Creating an Interdisciplinary Education for College Students
  • Chapter 6. Why the Need for an Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program? My Self-Study Report for the University of Vermont, 2018
  • The 2018 Self-Study Report for Interdisciplinary Studies in Education (Robert J. Nash)
  • Section One: General Information
  • Section Two: Introduction/Overview
  • Section Three: Standards and Criteria
  • Section Four: Narrative Summary
  • A Sample of Feedback From Recent Interdisciplinary Studies Graduates
  • Feedback From a Professional Life Coach
  • Feedback From a Higher Education Mid-Level Administrator
  • Feedback From a High School Teacher
  • Feedback From a College Career Counselor
  • Feedback From a Professional Midwife
  • Feedback From a New Student Affairs College Administrator
  • Feedback From a Global Educator
  • References
  • Chapter 7. Offering My First Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar Four Decades Ago
  • My Interdisciplinary Syllabus A Seminar on Moral Character and Education
  • Who I Think You Are
  • Who I Am
  • What This Course Will Be About … Broadly
  • What I Expect From You
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • Chapter 8. Offering My First Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Seminar
  • Interdisciplinary Syllabus Conversations About Pluralism: A Philosophical Examination
  • Our Conversational Approach to Studying Pluralism in College Life as a Community of Scholars
  • The Philosophical Pretext for the Course: Pluralism as a Worldview
  • Gifts
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • Chapter 9. Crossover Pedagogy: One Type of Interdisciplinary Coteaching
  • Crossing Sacrosanct Boundaries
  • My Attempts to Do Crossover Pedagogy
  • A Recent Meaning-Making Incident in My Seminar
  • Quarterlife Students and the Search for Meaning
  • Crossover Pedagogy in Action
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • References
  • Section III. A Series of Personal Reflections on Teaching and Learning
  • Chapter 10. What I Believe About Teaching and Learning: A Series of Hard-Won Teaching–Learning Aphorisms
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators (A Series of Brief Aphorisms)
  • References
  • Chapter 11. A Letter to Robert: “What I Took Away From the Interdisciplinary Program”
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • References
  • Chapter 12. Scholarly Personal Narrative Writing (SPN): An Anonymous E-Mail From a Junior Faculty Member
  • “It’s All About the Stories: Using Scholarly Personal Narratives in the Research Process”
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • References
  • Chapter 13. How to Teach Scholarly Personal Narrative Writing (SPN): A Syllabus
  • EDFS309 Scholarly Personal Narrative (SPN) Syllabus
  • What Is Scholarly Personal Narrative?
  • What Are Some SPN Writing Questions for Each of Us to Keep in Mind as We Write?
  • How Do We Give One Another Feedback on Our Writing?
  • What Are Some Technical SPN Points We Need to Keep in Mind as We Listen to One Another’s Writings?
  • Required Readings in Alphabetical Order
  • Further SPN Resources—Strongly Recommended
  • Our Preliminary Gift to You as You Get Started—Some of Our Past Students’ Most Favorite Writing Aphorisms
  • Personal Takeaways and Tips for Educators
  • Chapter 14. Deep-Meaning Learning: Ethics of Helping Relationships
  • My Ethics of Helping Relationships Syllabus (Cotaught With Jennifer J. J. Jang)
  • Overview
  • Teaching Style
  • Moral Conversation
  • Four Moral Languages
  • Excerpted Feedback From Some Students in Their Self-Evaluations
  • Chapter 15. Deep-Meaning Learning: Religion, Spirituality, and Education
  • My Religion, Spirituality, and Education Syllabus (Cotaught With Sydnee Viray)
  • I Am a Restless Postmodern Humanist
  • What Does It Mean to Be a Seeker?
  • Personal Writing This Semester: What Is Epistolary Scholarly Personal Narrative (eSPN) Writing?
  • Required Course Readings
  • Ten Types of Religious Stories That College Students Tell
  • Excerpted Feedback From Some Students in Their Self-Evaluations
  • Chapter 16. Conclusion: An Anniversary Letter to My Readers

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Who Am I?

I have been a professor in the College of Education and Social Services, University of Vermont, Burlington, for 50 years. I specialize in anthropology of education, philosophy of education, applied ethics, higher education administration, scholarly personal narrative (SPN) writing, and religion, spirituality, and education. I have graduate degrees in English, Religious Studies, Applied Ethics and Liberal Studies, and Educational Philosophy. I hold a faculty appointment in the Department of Leadership and Developmental Sciences. I am the founder, and director, of the first graduate program in Interdisciplinary Studies in Education in the United States; and also the cocreator of the nationally recognized Higher Education and Student Affairs graduate program.

All the courses I teach I have created over the last 50 years. These courses include Anthropological Perspectives on Education, Scholarly Personal Narrative Writing, Writing to Make Meaning, Ethics of Helping Relationships, Philosophy of Education as Meaning-Making, Religion, Spirituality, and Education, Controversial Issues in Higher Education, and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Education. I created, and administer, the Interdisciplinary Master’s Degree Program. I also ← 1 | 2 → invented and teach a genre of writing called SPN writing across four graduate programs in the College of Education and Social Services. I have supervised over 1500 theses, dissertations, and final, graduate comps manuscripts. I have published 19 books (all still in print), several of them national award winners. I have also published more than 125 refereed articles, as well as numerous book chapters, monographs, and essay book reviews. I am a member of the editorial board for the oldest, and most prestigious, journal in its field—The Journal of Religion & Education, and a regular contributor in the past to one of the most-read journals in higher education—About Campus.

In 2003, I was named an Official University Scholar in the Social Sciences and the Humanities at The University of Vermont, only the second faculty member in the history of the College of Education and Social Services to be so honored up to that time. This is a lifetime award. In 2009, I received the Joseph Anthony Abruscato Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship at the University of Vermont. In 2010, I was the recipient of the Gordon Fielding Lewis Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research from Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society, the largest social sciences honor society in the world. My books have won three separate Critics Choices Awards given by the American Educational Studies Association—one of the largest numbers ever awarded by this national scholarly association.

My Most Important Professional Identity: Interdisciplinary Teacher

Yes, as the opening paragraphs obviously indicate, I think of myself as a scholar, but I am a teacher first and foremost! I am currently celebrating the anniversary of my 50th year of teaching in higher education. (Although the research is spotty, a tiny percentage of the professoriate ever teaches 50 years or more.) My first inclination to celebrate my half a century of teaching was to write an extensive personal memoir recording all the emotional ups and downs that I have experienced throughout my life. I would tell my story of being a working-class, urban youth—the son of two orphans without a high school education and very little money. I would then record my long journey of overcoming obstacles in order to become a highly educated, and successful, university professor at a so-called “public ivy,” who went on to earn five degrees and win much academic acclaim. Of course, I would recount this rags-to-riches story with all the appropriate flair and drama of someone who ← 2 | 3 → had overcome the odds of being born poor (one of six brothers with a stay-at-home mom and a self-made, Boston-cop dad), living in urban housing projects and tenement houses, and yet ending up a surprising success in the eyes of the world—an award-winning teacher, author, and scholar.

After much reflection, however, I decided that I wanted a more practical, professional focus in my book. I did not want to write a straight-ahead autobiography, one that starts with the details of my birth, records the dramatic twists and turns of my early, middle, and later life, and ends with my current 80th year professorial success story. Instead, I have decided to concentrate on what I have taken away from 50 years of teaching in the American University that might be of help to students, staff, administrators, and teachers. I want to write a type of pedagogical memoir unpacking what I have experienced as the “gifts” and “takeaways” of being a university professor. Most of all, I want to share these gifts as tips—openly, candidly, and enthusiastically—with all my readers. This is actually the centuries’-old meaning of the word “tips”—not a more recent, specialized word meant “to insure promptness” by restaurant servers, but an Old English word that denotes hard-won gifts to be given to others in a spirit of gratitude.

And, so, instead of a birth-to-old-age memoir, I have decided to write an SPN, a genre of personalized academic writing that I created three decades ago, reflecting on my half-century of teaching in higher education. I will talk in more detail about the methodology of SPN writing later in my book, as this type of writing is central to who I am as an educator and what I do as a scholar/teacher/advisor/mentor/friend/colleague. I intend to frame the content of my pedagogical SPN as a series of succinct and clear—practical as well as theoretical, narrativized as well as conceptual—chapters for all my readers.

I will highlight what I have learned from 50 years of all types of interdisciplinary teaching at every level in the academy. I will tell some candid, personal stories of successes and setbacks about my life as an award-winning, interdisciplinary university professor/teacher. I will unpack the meaning, and application, of what I call “existential teaching and learning” and “postmodern constructivism.” I will also draw larger conclusions and more general applications to higher education whenever appropriate, especially in the area of interdisciplinary teaching and learning. I will include in all my chapters a number of practical pedagogical tips, and more general personal takeaways, for educators at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I will cite, and evaluate, the relevant scholarly literature as it pertains to my personal reflections on teaching in higher education. I will offer several lessons, insights, and ← 3 | 4 → recommendations based on what I have gained from a half-century teaching career. I will do this always with humility and joy, and with a spirit of tenuous tenacity. And I intend to share as much of my evolving professional/personal self as I will my subject matter expertise.

My book will be far more personal and applied, as well as celebratory and positive in tone and content, than many analyses of academia in print today. I most certainly will not be offering a detached, third-person critique of the American academy. Neither will I use my book as an opportunity to get even with any imagined enemies—again, too often the objective of many autobiographical critiques, or memoirs, written about higher education today. Instead, I will be offering a constructive, and instructive, series of lessons, tips, and advice gleaned from half a century of professorial service to both new and veteran faculty members. By “gleaned,” I mean that my insights have been gained slowly, bit by bit, sometimes painfully, but always joyfully and gratefully over a lengthy period of five decades. My book will also speak with relevance to students and administrators. It will be a holistic, optimistic, and enthusiastic view of an institution that has granted me the wonderful gift to teach (and to learn) for so many decades.

I will write my book in a jargon-free, first-person voice with the emphasis throughout on my own professorial experiences in teaching, leading, and researching. I will draw out possible teaching–learning implications for others with care, humility, and enthusiasm. I will strive to be practical and down-to-earth in my recommendations, as well as theoretically sound. My writing style will approximate the personal narrative approach I used in several chapters in the best-selling Liberating Scholarly Writing: The Power of Personal Narrative, published in 2004 by Columbia University Teachers College Press; and in How Stories Heal: Writing Our Way to Meaning & Wholeness in the Academy (coauthored with Sydnee Viray), published in 2014 by Peter Lang. (Both books, by the way, have received unanimous praise by academic reviewers.)

General Outline of My 50-Year Evolution as an Educator

My book will trace my 50-year evolution as an interdisciplinary, existential, postmodern, constructivist educator. (I will explain in everyday language the meaning and application of each of these terms throughout my book.) I want my chapters to be both substantive and instructive, and, above all, readable. ← 4 | 5 → I want my readers to experience a brisk, engaging flow of content from the beginning to the end. There will be three main sections to the book.

The First Section—“From Essentialism to Reconstructionism to Existentialism: The Early Impact of Theodore Brameld’s Work on My Philosophy of Education”—will explain my theoretical growth as a thinker and teacher. I will trace my intellectual development as someone who, during the first part of his career, almost exclusively stressed the essentialist content of philosophy in all my teaching and research to someone who now emphasizes the on-the-ground, existentialist, meaning-making potential of philosophy for both undergraduate and graduate students in all the helping professions, as well as in their everyday personal lives. The first several chapters will mostly explain, and illustrate, the trajectory of the philosophical journey that I have been traveling through the decades. The main background of the first section will feature the work of my doctoral mentor at Boston University, Theodore M. Brameld, who for a long time was one of the most well-known educational philosophers in the world. Without his early influence, this book would not have existed! (This first section will be much more personal, applied, and updated than some of the material about Brameld contained in a book that I wrote almost two decades ago, Spirituality, Ethics, Religion, and Teaching: A Professor’s Journey.)

The second section—“Creating an Interdisciplinary Education for College Students” will illustrate the practical implications of my philosophical journey in the actual courses that I have created, teach, and talk about in my national and local presentations. Many of these courses have been the first of their kind in the United States, and all still survive today at my University. All of my courses are electives, and each semester they continue to meet, and surpass, registration quotas. (I have never had a single course cancelled because of low enrollments. In fact, my courses are usually full to overflowing.) I will also talk about the challenges of constructing the first Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program at the University of Vermont, and one of the earliest such programs nationally. Half a century ago, precedents were pretty much nonexistent for such a venture.

In this section, I will focus on the content, and application, of the theory and practice of “interdisciplinarity.” Along the way, I will also mention why I choose to use the term “interdisciplinarity,” rather than the currently fashionable “multidisciplinarity” and “transdisciplinarity.” I will also talk in this section, and in Section Three, about my decades-long efforts to create, teach, and apply existential teaching and learning in such interdisciplinary courses ← 5 | 6 → as “Multicultural Conversations about Pluralism,” “Moral/Character Education,” “Philosophical Perspectives on Meaning-Making in the Helping Professions,” “Scholarly Personal Narrative Writing,” “Writing To Make Meaning,” “How To Talk About Hot Topics,” “Religion, Spirituality, and Education,” and “Ethics of Helping Relationships.” (I will go into more detail on some of these courses in Section Three.) So much of what I have taught by way of content and process over the years has been grounded in helping my students to create meaning in their lives. I call this “Deep Meaning-Making Teaching and Learning.” This pedagogical goal will be a recurring theme throughout the second and third sections. Meaning-making is the concept that grounds, and enriches, my approach to interdisciplinarity.

I will discuss, and analyze with candor and delight, and with examples, my personal/professional successes (and struggles) in the area of interdisciplinary curriculum construction and delivery. I will explain what I mean by “Crossover Pedagogy” and why I have decided, at this point in my career, to coteach all my courses with selected, former students who graduated from my Interdisciplinary, and Higher Education and Student Affairs programs. I will also write about my challenges in creating a graduate program in Interdisciplinary Studies in Education, one of the first of its kind in this country, and currently one of the largest Master’s Program in my College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont.

The third section—“A Series of Personal Reflections on Teaching and Learning” will feature several sets of aphorisms/maxims that I have constructed through the years in my pedagogical writing and presentations. The word “aphorism” (from the Greek aphorismos) was first coined by Hippocrates, and he used it to mean a series of short, pithy sayings meant to convey a general principle, truth, or insight about the human condition. I like to use aphorisms of up to a paragraph in length in both my teaching and writing because, when done well, they convey an astute truth about life concisely and memorably. They also serve as excellent epigraphs and epigrams in articles, books, and syllabuses.

Here is one example of several of my teaching–learning aphorisms: Evoke the personal stories of your students and colleagues whenever or wherever appropriate because these personal stories hold the key to the meaning of subject matter for students. This is an important aphorism for me because I believe that we tell our stories to prove that we’ve lived, that we’re still alive, and that we intend to live into some unknown future. Without our stories, our lives are without form or content. So too with subject matter. When all the technical trappings ← 6 | 7 → are removed, an academic discipline is really a particular group’s storied view of the world, and the story changes often. Find the story of your favorite subject matter, and you’ve located the hard (and soft) core of your academic discipline. You’ve also brought it to life.

In the final section, I will present, explain, and apply a wide-ranging series of pedagogical tips (several in the form of aphorisms) for educators, as well as a series of personal reflections on what, why, and how I have taught for 50 years. I will share some representative syllabuses that introduce, and explain, some of my pedagogical innovations: moral conversation, SPN writing, and deep-meaning learning. I will do this in order to illustrate what has worked for me (and what I am still working on) in my self-designated role as a “deep-meaning learning” change agent. To this end, I intend to include the direct voices of undergraduate and graduate students regarding what they took away from many of their Interdisciplinary courses with me. I will describe in detail many of their reactions to the courses they took with me. This final section will include the actual, uncensored voices of my students as much as my own professorial voice.

My Intended Readership

I want faculty at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to read and benefit from my book. So, too, do I include administrators and students. Another audience will be laypersons who enjoy reading memoirs and who might be attracted to the book of a professor who is willing to talk about his successes and challenges in personal, yet always hopeful, terms. There are millions of parents throughout the United States who know little about the day-to-day work of professors who teach, advice, and mentor their children. I will be writing every single page of this book with all of these audiences in mind.


X, 242
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. X, 242 pp.

Biographical notes

Robert J. Nash (Author)

Robert J. Nash has been a professor in the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont, Burlington, for 50 years. He attained graduate degrees in English, religious studies, applied ethics and liberal studies, and educational philosophy from Boston University, Northeastern University, University of Dayton, and Georgetown University, respectively. In 2003, Nash was named Official University Scholar in the Social Sciences and the Humanities at the University of Vermont, only the second faculty member in the history of the College of Education and Social Services to be so honored at that time. He has received the Joseph Anthony Abruscato Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship at the University of Vermont and the Gordon Fielding Lewis Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research from Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society, the largest social sciences honor society in the world. His books have won three separate Critics’ Choice Awards given by the American Educational Studies Association—one of the largest numbers ever awarded by this national scholarly association.


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