At West Point as well as Johns Hopkins, I’ve taught courses in literature, composition, and teaching itself. Regardless of the subject, I challenge students to make connections among exceptionally diverse clusters of disciplines, texts, and voices—just as I do in my own research.
For instance, cadets in one of my recent first-year writing seminars (“Spectacle, Interest, and Society”) considered work by Sontag, Hawthorne, Foucault, and Debord, among others. I support such discursive leaps by designing assignment sequences that privilege revision and adaptation: cadets began with a brief paper in which they annotated Sontag’s ideas about beauty; next, they sharpened the cores of these papers in longer essays that weighed Sontag’s theories against Hawthorne’s tales; then, they pursued research projects in the context of interdisciplinary work by Foucault and Debord on surveillance and spectacle—projects they finally adapted into roundtable presentations at the end of the term. Such recursive sequencing equally benefits students who struggle and students who excel: the former have more time to process difficult but powerful concepts, the latter to produce deeper analyses than they otherwise might. Both groups, moreover, are compelled to reflect extensively on the feedback they get from me.
Ultimately, the academic work I privilege in my classrooms is animated by the same principles I’ve installed, as an administrator, at the heart of the West Point Writing Fellows Program. To help students see themselves as intellectuals, and as imaginative professionals, I try to frame their intellectual labors as creative endeavors while also plotting learning trajectories that propel students to superior professional achievement. Indeed, it means representing higher learning as professional achievement. In introductory classes, this involves having students experiment with elevated forms of peer review, critique, and colloquia; in advanced classes, it means annually helping students compete to participate in academic conferences and to publish.