kitchen table math, the sequel: Willingham on interdisciplinary work

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Willingham on interdisciplinary work

. . . Gee retells (via Jonah Lehrer) the story of a building at MIT that housed professors from a wide variety of disciplines, with a concomitant flowering of intellectual cross-fertilization. Gee quotes (with approval, I guess) Lehrer: “The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right—enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways—the group dynamic will take care of itself.”

As an academic who has been doing interdisciplinary work for 20 years, I would counter: “Like hell it does.”

Virtually every school of education is housed in a building with people trained in different disciplines, and interdisciplinary work remain rare. For reasons I won’t get into here (and much to the despair of university administrators) interdisciplinary work is hard.

Book Review: Theory and Practice


Lsquared said...

Perhaps an important point is that it works at MIT. If you have enough brilliant, knowledgeable, curious people together, some of them will collaborate. Especially if they have tenure and a low teaching load, and are curious about everything in the universe. I find that this situation is quite rare among, say, middle school students.

AmyP said...

This is all very true. My husband has been to a number of philosophy of science events, and it's really difficult, because the philosophers and the scientists have utterly different training.

Allison said...

Building 20 was a set of shacks. They wanted it torn down for years but since it had been some sort of important building involved in the invention of something (RADAR maybe?) They couldn't. So the housed the philosophers and linguists there. In a hovel.

Nothing interdisciplinary at all, although the line of philosophy done at MIT is different than most departments and might seem that way. Can't find the source story.

kcab said...

I wouldn't call it a set of shacks, exactly, though it was out of place after awhile. I rather liked it myself - perhaps largely for the contrast with other nearby buildings.

Anyway, here is a link to other information on bldg 20: MIT libraries history page.