Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ever Ride a Silly Bus?

"Are you into a bus ministry?"

That's what John Willis asked as he handed me the "silly bus" for a graduate course I was auditing with him. That was many years ago. But to this day, I've had a hard time not hearing "silly bus" whenever someone says "syllabus." And now I'm a college teacher.

Anyway, because classes begin next week (college breaks are the best), I'm working to finalize the syllabi that I'll be handing out then.

Here's something that experience has taught me and that I've now learned: first-and-second-year students have a hard time figuring out a subject for a term paper. And, once they've settled on a topic, it's almost always way too broad, something that you could write about for volumes, but not a few pages.

Then, last semester, I learned something else. One of my students mildly complained that she just couldn't figure out a topic for her paper in my Old Testament class. I asked her if she wanted me to end the agony and assign something to her. With relief in her eyes, she said, "Yes." So I told her I wanted a paper on Genesis 6:1-4, that interesting passage about the sons of God and daughters of men and the Nephilim and all that. Several weeks later, she turned in the best paper in the bunch. At that point, I remembered that many of the best things I've ever written were prompted by an assignment.

So, my new commitment is to provide a good list of topics for all the classes in which I require a paper. I've already started a list for (a) New Testament, (b) Life of Paul, and (c) World Religions. I won't list everything that I've come up with so far. Here are a couple of examples for each course:

New Testament

1. Of the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) choose one and then discuss some of the writer's main interests and points of emphasis.
2. How does John 1:1-18 serve as a prologue for this Gospel?

Life of Paul

1. Who are Paul's opponents in 2nd Corinthians? In the letter, how does Paul go about winning back the congregation to his thought and way of leading?
2. Discuss either 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:34-35, or 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and how they inform current discussions of "women's role in the church."

World Religions

1. What is the Quranic view of Mary the mother of Jesus?
2. What is a Bodhisattva? With regard to Bodhisattavas, what are the differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism?

Now, here's my question for you. Under any or all of those headings, what paper topics would you add? (These are first-and-second-year courses in which I require a 5-6 page paper). Thanks for your suggestions.

1 comment:

Leland V said...

First, a preliminary thought, and then more suggestions later.

My freshman English prof insisted that our paper had to have a thesis statement; something that we would set out to prove with research, not just an encyclopedia article that described something. I have always appreciated that pressure. For example, regarding the synoptics: demonstrate why Matthew's selection of narratives and teachings is more appropriate to his target audience (i.e., Jewish Christians). Or, similarly for Mark or Luke. This forces a bit more thought than simply describing how Matthew differs from the other two.