The focus of the article is on the author's experience as learner and teacher. The task of preparing law students for their professional life is compared to that of teaching undergraduates who, in the uniquely strenuous College of the University of Chicago, are interested in books and ideas and are not immediately job-driven. Whereas in the law school setting the author, like other law professors, worked alone, in the College he worked with a staff of colleagues who shared in the choice of readings and in lectures to the entire student body—altogether, in the author's view, a more demanding task for the teacher. Graduate education in sociology is again different: the student is an apprentice professional, but there is no clear road toward professional practice; the faculty member as mentor on the dissertation helps pilot the apprentice through the cross-currents of conflict in the field and in the particular department.

Teaching undergraduates in Harvard College, the author reports, involved tasks different from those faced in the College of the University of Chicago. Rather than working, as at Chicago, with a staff of presumptive equals, at Harvard the author recruited advanced graduate students and junior (and on occasion, senior) faculty whom he treated as colleagues, but whom Harvard undergraduates tended to deprecate as mere “section men,” i.e. teaching assistants. The author details efforts to overcome what was 30 years ago the fabled yet quite real pose of “Harvard indifference” a lack of engagement with subject matter and with noncelebrity faculty. The Harvard colleague group worked to get students to do small pieces of fieldwork, not merely as exercises, but out of interest in a topic and an idea. When with the rise of a radical student-faculty “movement” many undergraduates became less “cool,” the problems of teaching subtly changed. Always, the author notes, teaching is contextual and often needs to work against the prevailing tide.

Keyword(s): Autobiography

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  • Article Type: Review Article
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