We think, therefore we are

Upcoming Humanities conference aims at getting Dawson students thinking

By: Alyssa Tremblay

The Humanities department is inviting students and teachers to drop by Conrods (2F.4) next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, to participate in their free three-day Critical Thinking and Public Life conference. Starting at 10 a.m. each day, the conference will feature a variety of speakers, interactive discussion panels and performances, all aimed at getting students to think outside the classroom.

“[There’s a] disconnect between humanities and public, everyday life,” Susan-Judith Hoffman explained.  Hoffman is the Humanities and Philosophy teacher who organized this event, as well as a similar conference last March.  She argues that the reason “why we take humanities” in the first place is to apply critical thinking to our own lives in order to better understand why we do the things we do.

Dawson students are required to take three humanities courses in order to graduate, and their feelings on the subject are varied.  “I like Humanities, but I don’t find it actually useful,” Vivian Leung, first year Nursing student.   “I have a good teacher so it’s pretty interesting, but it’s not my favourite class.”

Elli Stylianou, a third year Law, Society and Justice student, sees larger benefits to taking a humanities course. “You get to see the world from a different point of view,” Stylianou explained.

“This year we’ve tried to make it so the conference is really geared towards the students,” Hoffmann said, including that “students are welcome to float in and out” between speakers, and that teachers are encouraged to bring their classes down to Conrods to listen.

The conference will feature Dawson teachers and staff from different academic disciplines.   Some speakers of interest include Robert Kavanagh, Dawson’s Academic Dean, as well as Tom Fox of the Math department and Jessica Lim of the Humanities department, both recipients of the Director General’s Awards for Teaching Excellence.

Several important individuals from outside the college have also been invited to come speak, including Captain Derrick Farnham of the Canadian Armed Forces and two PhD candidates: Don Beith from McGill University and Noah Moss Brender from Boston College.

The first panel on Sept. 28 at 10 am is on Movement and Critical Thinking. Jessica Lim and Daniel Goldsmith of the Humanities department explore ‘thinking while walking,’ a school of philosophy inspired by the teachings of the famous philosopher Aristotle.

The concept, according to Jessica Lim, is that “you can’t just sit still on an idea, or else it dies.  One of my favourite philosophers said, and I’m paraphrasing: ‘A good idea is an idea in motion.’ ”

Lim will be explaining the methods behind this philosophy, while her co-presenter Daniel Goldsmith will use his own personal travelling experience through Europe and Asia to justify why physical movement is critical to the thinking process.

“Travel has forced me to think differently,”Goldsmith said.  Lim and Goldsmith aim to demonstrate that stepping outside your culture, your own way of thinking, is the only way to make sense of the world.

“Anybody who’s travelled can relate to this,” Goldsmith continued.  “Anyone who’s walked down the street can relate to this.”Donations will be collected during this panel to raise money for the non-profit Central Asia Institute, which builds elementary schools in rural regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The second panel at 2 p.m. is entitled, What the hell am I doing here.  Academic Dean Robert Kavanagh was surprised when asked by the conference’s organizer if he would host an entire panel.   “[At first] I though she meant I would welcome people,” he chuckled.

With a doctorate in philosophy, years of involvement in educational public life and a past as a practising artist, Kavanagh is fascinated by how we make the decisions that change our lives.  “I am interested in understanding how our deeper emotional and psychological beings stir us to do things,” Kavanagh said, going on to describe how studying humanities is the key to unravelling how our minds work.

“These are very human things that we don’t have answers for,” Kavanagh explained.  “This kind of stuff is for anyone who’s alive.”

A full program listing all the speakers and when their panels start is available on the Dawson website and at the information desk in the Upper Atrium.

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