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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 8:10 am    Post subject: Professors and correctness         Reply with quote

My major is history. I intend to eventually become a history teacher at either secondary or post secondary level.

Naturally, I have to take many history courses, and this semester I signed up for one that covers c1300 - c1877. It is taught by a guy who works on base as a contractor, and apparently has some certification to teach the class. He does, however, have some flaws in his teaching -- most notably about the bathing thing.

There was a thread here a while back about bathing in the post Roman world that really opened my eyes about how hygiene went down in the middle ages. It converted me from wondering why they "didn't" bathe to wondering how I could build my own bath house one day. My professor, however, still believes bathing was considered as a generally "sinful" thing and was rarely done. Certainly, we know of certain monastic orders that only bathed twice a year, but evidence points to the contrary for the general populous. How does one approach a professor that teaches flawed information? Are we even supposed to?

I intend to present him this article before class today. Have any of you had experiences with professors teaching something that was inherently flawed? Certainly I'm not an expert on anything (which is why I'm the question asker, not the answerer here), but when it's something I know for sure is flawed, it jarrs me and makes me wonder how much I'm "learning" is actually outright false.

M.

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Tim May




Location: Annapolis, MD
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 8:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm certainly no expert on the subject, but many medieval professors I've encountered come to their subject through an interest in intellectual history at least as much as an interest in strict historical record. Perhaps due to this their research is focused on Church records, Church history, and to a large degree theology, and often the ever day actions are not their priority. It seems (in my experience) social historians are much more common in later periods.

This is not to say that the Church disapproved of bathing and hygiene, but rather that a mention of not bathing seems much more likely to stand out rather than any tracts affirming what we consider normal behavior.
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Arne Focke
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 8:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think approaching him with sources which tell a different story is exactly the right course of action; i assume you tend to stay polite. Wink

In most public libraries you should easily find a ton of information about bathing habits especially in the late middle ages.
There are also a lot of drwaings from bathing houses. Seeing those pictures, and what the portraied people do, helps in realizing why bathing was considered sinful.

So schön und inhaltsreich der Beruf eines Archäologen ist, so hart ist auch seine Arbeit, die keinen Achtstundentag kennt! (Wolfgang Kimmig in: Die Heuneburg an der oberen Donau, Stuttgart 1983)
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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Location: upstate NY
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 8:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am an old hand at tackling instructors for teaching bad info. I think, having done some hard take-downs and had to deal with the consequences that the safest way is to give them the most authoritative good info and telling them that 'So-and-So who is an expert in the field and holds a post at Such-and-Such University disagrees with you. You might want to have a look at this before you talk about the [specific subject ] again."
Bathing among city dwellers seems to have been popular until the Counter-Reformation, it seems to me. After that it seems like the Protestants and Catholics got into this 'holier-than-thou' war and bathing became a 'luxury'. But I'm only talking off the top of my 'historical overview'.

jamesarlen.com
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Robin Palmer




Location: herne bay Kent UK
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 1:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi James I have read several time that the reason why bathing died out after rome fell was due to the church holding it was a pagan custom thus not something good christians did. Plus bathing involved nudity something the church saw as sinfull. On the matter of lack of bathing in the church there was a case of an old nun who was very proud that she had only ever dipped the tip of her finger in holy water to cross herself in 60 years.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 1:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Dr. X.... I ran across this article on medieval attitudes towards bathing and thought you might find it interesting".
-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 5:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear M.

I've been a professor for 15 years (not of History) and direct a grad program. There are several reasons why professors teach things that are known not to be correct.

One is a good reason based on good teaching principles. That is to provide a simple story that people can digest and remember, leaving the more subtle nuances and controversies to a later stage (often grad school). Sometimes one teaches something that one does not even agree with, just to provide the student with the 'mainstream' viewpoint.

Another reason is to be consistent with the textbook. Often textbooks are written by by non-experts in the details (or at least many details) of the subject, and are trying to achieve the above aims. Moreover they are often based on review articles that were published several years earlier, which are in turn based on research papers that came out several years before. Hence, most textbooks are 10 years out of date, or really a simplified sketch of an out of date reality. Students treat them as bibles and don't realize the truth until well into grad school - knowledge is dynamic.

Another reason is that often professors set up a course when they first get the job, and then they are too busy with other things (research, administration etc) to update the material.

Yet another reason is that professors are only human, and are generally only experts in some sub-section of the course. The rest they probably picked up from old courses or from reviewing some material, either last night or (worse) a few years ago. It does not matter where they got the knowledge - what matters is that they are able to communicate it to you.

The final reason is simply incompetence. The most knowledgeable university professors are usually also involved in research, or at least have a passion for staying up to date with the latest research. That keeps them on the cutting edge and prevents them from falling into the pitfalls cited above. Your story is typical of the part-time university teacher who does this to earn some extra cash. The university hires them because it is the most economical way to put students in seats rather than hiring more expensive research professors. Depending on the university, they are not really professors, but rather lecturers or some other such title. I am generalizing here of course and probably offending some people. There are exceptions to every rule and there are definitely outstanding part-time teachers, just as there are great researchers who cannot teach worth a darn.

So don't despair - what matters is that most of what you are getting is hopefully still 'correct', and that you have an inquiring mind that allows you to question everything you are hearing. Because believe me, whatever is completely true today, might turn out be rubbish tomorrow anyway. Realizing that is the most important thing to learn in university.

-JDC
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 7:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It might be a good idea to well document your sources and present your research diplomatically and maybe privately so as to not come across as trying to make him look " wrong " in front of the class i.e. do it in private if possible.

If the guy is interested in teaching the most accurate information possible he might just reconsider his lesson plans and use your research after he checks it out for accuracy.

If the guy dismisses your research out of hand just politely nod and file it under having tried to give him honest input, finish your class with him, give him the answers he wants to hear and pass the course ...... or you could get into a heated argument if you think it's worth the trouble but being polite is always the best thing to do. Wink ( Oh, I'm guessing here as a lot depends on the guy's personality and what are the stakes for you in passing or not passing his course. It's just polite in any case to avoid embarrassing him in public ).

Just my take on it: I could be wrong. Wink Big Grin

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Maurizio D'Angelo




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 7:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree, Professor.
I think, your intelligence is equal to your objectivity. Happy
Maurizio


Last edited by Maurizio D'Angelo on Wed 16 Sep, 2009 7:32 pm; edited 1 time in total
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 7:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the tips. My short time as a member here has completely changed the way I even think about history, and subsequently a lot of alarms go off in my head when something glaringly flawed comes out. I hope it doesn't get the best of me :S

Sean, that's the approach I took. Hopefully he reads it.

JD, that's pretty much the impression I got; he's not really a history person so much as he's a spare lecturer to fill seats. He also does politics, from what I've heard from other students.

M.

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Dave W.




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Sep, 2009 8:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not sure if these paintings are the ideal source, but perhaps the fact that the medieval bath was such a common image in artwork might say something to the subject. http://www.larsdatter.com/baths.htm

I particularly think this image is a good one, if not for you're discusion then at least for a laugh...It depicts a bathhouse/house of prostitution. If you look closely in the back you'll notice a kingly figure and a holy one, perhaps a bishop or cardinal, waiting in line.[/i][/url]



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Bryce Felperin




Location: San Jose, CA
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PostPosted: Thu 17 Sep, 2009 10:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dave W. wrote:
I'm not sure if these paintings are the ideal source, but perhaps the fact that the medieval bath was such a common image in artwork might say something to the subject. http://www.larsdatter.com/baths.htm

I particularly think this image is a good one, if not for you're discusion then at least for a laugh...It depicts a bathhouse/house of prostitution. If you look closely in the back you'll notice a kingly figure and a holy one, perhaps a bishop or cardinal, waiting in line.[/i][/url]


Love the minstral in the foreground providing entertainment while the others bath! Looks like a fun place to hang out. ;-)
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Fri 18 Sep, 2009 7:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M.,

I'd just tell him one day after class or during office hours. The one thing you don't want to do is start something during class where it may look less like a helpful bit of info but a jab at him personally before his entire class. Do some good research and just talk with him. In my entire academic career I have had few lecturers/teachers who would not at least listen to a well reasoned statement.

Just use this chance to do a thoughtful and well researched paper for the class..... Wink

Remember he is a person and just doing (hopefully) his best. We all make mistakes... or forget things.

Bathing should be a fairly straight forward one. I think there is evidence for bathing in some of the ordinances of certain religious orders even.

RPM
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Fri 18 Sep, 2009 2:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Amen to that. Often that certain set of students (we used to call them 'keeners' up here) try to point out mistakes in front of the class thinking that this will make them look clever and impress the professor. The reality is that the professor, having the fragile ego of every human, will just get p'd off at the student, whereas the rest of the class doesn't care and is just annoyed by the interruption.
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Eric Root




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PostPosted: Fri 18 Sep, 2009 3:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
Amen to that. Often that certain set of students (we used to call them 'keeners' up here) try to point out mistakes in front of the class thinking that this will make them look clever and impress the professor. The reality is that the professor, having the fragile ego of every human, will just get p'd off at the student, whereas the rest of the class doesn't care and is just annoyed by the interruption.


The best thing to do, if the class includes a research paper project, is just write on the subject and cite the sources that really get into the subject. That changes it from your arguing with the professor (unless you've already established that faux pas) and more one of "hey, I thought the case was such-and-such (what the professor said) but look what this other research has turned up! Who'da thunk?" That way you avoid a head-butting contest (never profitable when the other guy controls your grades,) and maybe he'll think it's cool and ultimately thank you for the info.
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