FALL, 2000

This course, which was co-designed by faculty from the Departments of Anthropology, Biology, and English, explores the processes involved in telling and retelling stories, an activity in which all humans engage and one which is fundamental to intellectual and academic activities of every kind.

We will begin with a consideration of fairy tales, looking into both the "hidden meanings" which they reflect, and their transformations over time. We will then explore the origins and transformations of scientific understandings. With this background, we will make our own scientific observations on male/female differences, using these as part of the process of telling and retelling stories on this particular subject. The course will end with a consideration of the telling and retelling of stories about societies, about education, and about selves.

Readings will include Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Transformations (Ann Sexton), "The Uses of Enchantment", (Bruno Bettleheim), Galileo (Bertold Brecht), Flatland (Edwin Abbott), "Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" (Clifford Gertz) "The Death of Freud" (Adam Phillips), and selected shorter writings. In addition to reading, writing, and small group discussions, we will have several large group symposia based on our work, and use computers and the internet both for data collection and for sharing aspects of our inquiries.

Instructor: Paul Grobstein, Park Room 106, x5098,

Course web site:

Course objectives/philosophy: This course is designed to provide an opportunity for shared exploration of the nature of creative inquiry, with a particular focus on the iterative process common to many forms of such inquiry. For such an exploration, there are no "right" answers, nor any single best perspective from which to view the inquiry. What is needed instead is the inclination/ability to pose questions about one's own understanding, and to imagine and test answers, which in turn lead both to enhanced understanding and additional questions. Language is an essential tool in this process, both as an aid to one's own thinking, and as a mechanism to share useful perspectives with others. Hence, the course is intended as well as a set of experiences that will enhance skills in the use of language for creative and critical thinking.

Course organization: The course will meet twice a week from 11:30 to 1, as shown on the course schedule. As shown on the schedule, there will also be two special symposia at which we will share perspectives with students and faculty in two additional sections of this course. In addition to these large meetings, students will also meet individually with the instructor at prearranged times once every two weeks.

Evaluation and grading: The most significant outcomes of a course of this kind are the experiences it creates, individually and collectively, and the associated enhanced abilities of everyone involved to engage in subsequent creative inquiry. In this sense, each individual is necessarily the one best equipped to evaluate their own performance and contributions. It is this personal evaluation, based on one's own sense of accomplishment together with input from others whom one respects, that should be given greatest significance.

Final grades will be based on an evaluation of contributions to class discussions and of written assignments as a collective body of work. In both cases, the expectation is that students will not only communicate clearly and interestingly, but display evidence of having seriously engaged with the material, in the sense of having defined questions or problems about which they are themselves uncertain, considered several possible answers, and made a compelling and coherent argument for one or another of them based on additional observations. Grades on individual writing assignments will be provided or not, as individual students prefer, with the instructor being always willing to discuss with students both the current quality of their writing and the progress they are making. Inherent in the course is a presumption that, whatever one's skill level, it is always possible to get better at the use of language for creative and critical thinking.