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Abstract

The ways that an individual professor, a department, or a campus talks about the basic communication course can be arrayed along a broad spectrum of attitudes. At one end of a continuum are those who look at the course with a blend of intellectual contempt and embarrassment (Burgoon, 1989) or who believe that an assignment to teach such a course counts as penance or banishment. For many or most of our colleagues the characterizations fall in a more positive central zone, construing the course as a rich source of student enrollment or a fertile recruiting ground for majors.

The authors of these papers fall far at the other end of the continuum. In different but related ways, each essay celebrates our experience as basic course instructors as a special opportunity, laden with theoretical, social, political and ethical implications. In response to the editor’s call to address issues of philosophy of teaching these authors did not ascend to the highest levels of conceptual abstraction or delve into the painstaking splitting of verbal and conceptual hairs. Instead, and fortunately I think, each presented a passionate statement about an original and provocative way to approach the course. What qualifies these papers as “philosophical” is not so much that they talk about ends rather than means, since much of the fine work in this Annual and at Basic Course conferences addresses course objectives as well as teaching strategies.

Rather, they look a bit more deeply at the goals behind the objectives. Put differently, they draw our attention to the second and third levels of the question “why?” We engage in certain activities to achieve a particular objective such as developing a valid causal argument. But why do we want our students to master that objective? To become better critical thinkers, perhaps. But why do we want them to become better critical thinkers? Moving in this direction draws us into more explicit discussions of how the particular choices we make about textbooks, assignments, evaluation, classroom climate, and teacher student relationships bundle together into a larger stance toward what we are about. When our decision-making is imbued with a deep awareness of larger purpose and longrange goals, there is a coherence to our instruction.

Students sense when a professor is on a mission, not just delivering instruction but, well, professing. They know that the class they are taking is called basic not because it is trivial but because it is profoundly important.