What is American Studies? (Brent A. Jones)

What is American Studies? (Brent A. Jones)
What is American Studies? (Brent A. Jones)

What is American Studies? (Brent A. Jones)


Hi Again! As promised in my last posting, I would like to share some of the challenges Prof. Palmer and I have been facing as we design and develop the American Studies course for incoming freshmen next Spring.

First, we have wrestled with the concept of American Studies. What is this? What should our focus be in this type of course? What kinds of goals and objectives should we have? From what perspective should we investigate the various issues and themes? We are still struggling with these and other questions but now have an outline and much of the weekly content decided.

Our feeling is that students will best be able to understand important social and cultural developments if they are introduced within a historical context. For this reason, we are organizing our lessons along a timeline, with a look at early inhabitants, contact with European explorers and settlers, colonialism, the fight for independence, western expansion, the civil war, the civil rights movement and the Cold War (to name just a few). Within this historical context, we hope to introduce key issues such as the mistreatment of native Americans, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, Federalism, slavery, the civil rights movement and expansion of the military.

With this framework, we will try to help students gain a better understanding of the USA and its relationship with Japan and the rest of the world. At the same time, we believe we can help students develop their reading and writing skills as well as critical thinking strategies. This brings us to our next question, “how does this course fit with the other English courses and the overall curriculum at CUBE?”

Because we want students to develop the four main language skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening), we need to create many opportunities for practice. We are trying to design these opportunities into all courses but have established a main focus for each course. For example, we will emphasize reading and writing in the American Studies course since students will get more practice with the other skills in Speech and Discussion as well as Active Listening. To promote deeper learning of the content, we will encourage students and teachers to adopt topics and themes from the American Studies course for their other first-semester courses. We think American Studies and the other English courses will reinforce each other as well as what freshmen are learning in their other courses, namely the importance of developing skills in reasoning, time management, individual responsibility, team work and organization.

Another big question has been what kinds of activities will students be involved in? In line with the focus on English for Academic Purposes (EAP), we want students to gain confidence in listening to short lectures in English as well as participating in discussions. At the same time, we feel strongly that we learn much through stories. For this reason, we want to introduce many of the issues and ideas through stories of influential people as well as average citizens of each era. To keep the students interested and motivated, we want to get everyone involved in research projects on topics of their choice. We think this will be an area where students can express their creativity and share their findings and enthusiasm with their classmates.

We have also been discussing how to maintain enough flexibility to handle current affairs such as the presidential election or recent economic crisis? As much as possible, we will prepare activities and materials for about 70% of the course and leave room for teachers to explore other areas of American Studies with their students. We will also try to guide students to relate what we are studying to current issues and events.

These are just some of our considerations but readers should be able to see how we are keeping the students’ interests at the center of our discussions as we move forward. We look forward to getting input and feedback from students for how to make this one of our flagship courses at CUBE.

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