Cassie Whitt | Outstanding Teaching By a Doctoral Student

Cassie WhittHometown: Cadiz, KY

Why is teaching important to you?

In his book Poetics, Aristotle wrote about a concept he called “anagnorisis,” which can be loosely defined as “a change from ignorance to knowledge.” Aristotle used the term in his discussion of Greek tragedies, and in that context, anagnorisis represented the moment that a tragic hero realized the truth about a person, a situation, or even themself. If you are familiar with the story of Oedipus Rex, anagnorisis is the moment Oedipus realizes he has killed his father and married his mother. While we do not operate in the context of a classical Greek tragedy, in many ways the goals of psychologists align with those moments of anagnorisis; we are seeking truth about the social world in which we live, and a central objective in pursuing our own anagnorisis is to facilitate that transformative process of shifting from ignorance – about ourselves and other people – to critical understanding. As a psychology teacher, I feel that I can help guide students to a kind of anagnorisis and help them achieve understanding about the world by offering a perspective on human behavior that may be entirely novel to them. Teaching is important to me because it is an opportunity to change viewpoints, open eyes to new perspectives, and construct a framework through which to see others.

Dissertation Excerpt:

“In the Classical antiquity of ancient Greece, when a male child grew to be of school-age, he was brought to a pedagogue – an individual who would serve as the trusted overseer of the boy’s education. The educative role of the pedagogue is alluded to throughout classical and post-classical literature, including figures like the sagely pedagogue of Agamemnon and the mythical character of Mentor – the wise teacher in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey. I begin with a mentioning of the pedagogue because he represents a ubiquitous idea in Western education: Teachers are trusted sources of knowledge. As pedagogy evolved, the idea that knowledge acquisition is predicated on trust in one’s instructors seems to have progressed into a kind of reverence for educators, especially those occupying instructive roles in higher education. While students’ dependence on their instructors is certainly required to impart knowledge, given the inherent fallibility of human beings – and their intellectual endeavors – one must wonder if the level of trust for epistemic authorities that is imbued in students can sometimes be a hindrance to their knowledge and critical thinking skills.

In the proposed study, I seek to investigate how teaching about psychology’s replication crisis affects undergraduate students’ dependence on their psychology instructors (and the general fields of psychology and science) for knowledge. The replication crisis is a methodological movement that has called into question the credibility of psychological science by highlighting the field’s difficulty in reproducing findings (Open Science Collaboration, 2015), as well as the prevalence of questionable research practices amongst psychologists (e.g., p-hacking, falsifying data, incomplete reporting of measures, etc.; John et al., 2012). By bringing students’ attention to these unsavory realities, teaching about the replication crisis may result in beneficial changes to students’ reliance on intellectual authorities. Ultimately, I suggest that by helping students cultivate a useful form of intellectual dependence in the classroom, the replication crisis may serve as a valuable pedagogical tool in undergraduate courses – a possibility that warrants empirical investigation.”