What should I teach?

My college is developing new inquiry courses for freshmen. The idea is for students to choose a couple of courses their first year where they can explore exploring. Think about thinking. Discuss. Wonder. Grow. Begin to change their minds.

My lovely task: develop a course that I’d enjoy teaching.
My crazy problem: too many ideas.

Though I’ve narrowed my list to two choices, I need to survey the incoming freshman class and ask them, “Which of these courses would you prefer? A global look at sustainability? Or a science of fiction course?”

“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” I was an environmentalist before it became hip. Back when loving the Earth was ridiculed. Damn tree-huggers. A sustainability course could explore topics like

global food production and distribution,

renewable energy,


destruction of ecosystems,

the carbon cycle,

carbon footprint,

global warming,

overpopulation and more.

I’d also like to teach the world to love to read and one path to that goal is reading fiction together and discussing it. The fiction I would impose on my students would have elements of science:

Contact by Carl Sagan

Jurassic Park by  Michael Crichton

The Footprints of God by Greg Isles

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Watership Down by Richard Adams

My list is too long for one semester. The course could change every semester. Yikes.

Anyone out there have an opinion? If you were 18 again and about to start college, would you enroll in either of these courses?


8 thoughts on “What should I teach?

  1. There is already so much information and misinformation out there on the environment and ecology, but it is a timely topic. I think it has been a popular topic from even my time as a college student, which was back when the dinosaurs were still roaming the earth. I am sure if you would do such a course that you would really do careful research to separate the science from the pseudoscience. If you do this, you will do your students a great service by making them think critically about the topic and not just accept all of the nonsense that gets spouted sometimes in the mass media, and, unfortunately, in a lot of classrooms. I also am concerned about the environment, but a lot of the urban myths that seem to gain traction are rubbish.

    A study of science in science fiction sounds very interesting, and there are several approaches that you would probably want to examine. One approach is of course looking back into the history of science fiction and comparing it to the science reality of today. There is the theory that a lot of the things that are science reality today have roots in science fiction. Another approach might be to look at science fiction that is still ahead of the actual science, and exploring possible ways that these might actually become science reality. A lot of science fiction isn’t really so much about futuristic technologies and such, but rather a journey into ethical issues, social issues, and religious and philosophical issues.

    Of the two potential courses, if I were a student today, I think I might prefer the study of science in science fiction just because I think there are already so many courses on ecology and the environment, but probably relatively few on science in science fiction. And since you are such an avid reader yourself, I am sure you will be able to come up with a good reading list, although I noted that there are a lot of science fiction books that I think you might want to consider on that reading list that are not on the list you have posted here.


    1. Thanks for sharing your insight, Pete.
      The potential list of books is long. That’s what makes the fiction course so appealing and scary.
      One vote for the fiction course.

  2. Interesting post. This sounds like a wonderful conundrum to be in, as both classes sound like they’d be amazing to teach and you clearly have a passion for both.

    Myself, if I were a student, I’d be much more likely to enroll in the science fiction course. That’s arbitrary personal interest, though.

    From the tone of your post (if I’m not being presumptuous), it sounds like you want to do something important, and like you want to choose “right.” I often feel that way about things myself, and weigh pros and cons, and make lists of facts, and get all kinds of hung up on what’s important. I find I tend to make better decisions, though, in going the way that’s more fun and that’s going to be more interesting to me on a daily basis. I may be projecting, but I hope I’ve been helpful.

    Best of luck in whichever you choose. And thanks for the book suggestions.

  3. I’m going to vote for the sustainability area. I think with your real-world R&D experience in an industry that has been driven to be more sustainable you have a unique perspective. An overview of many of the areas would certainly catch the attention of the general student population, not just those interested in science fiction..

    The science and economics of sustainability are important. For example, if you could bring your energy and enthusiasm to teaching the trade-offs between sustainability and performance/profitability it would be a lesson well learned.

    That being said, I bet you could put together a really spectacular and fun curriculum on the science in sci-fi. Good luck with your decision.

  4. That’s a hard one. Though I’m a writer, I think I’d vote for the sustainability one. So incredibly important, and when I was in school I never had the option for a course like that.

  5. I’m leaning toward the sustainability course right now and you tied up he votes 2 to 2. That means I have to be the tiebreaker, which is like having to make the decision all by myself. Thanks for sharing your opinion!

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