Thoughts on our first meeting (August 21; August 25)
A good way to understand what this course is for is to distinguish education from training. In psychology, graduate programs in areas such as clinical and counseling psychology (such as ours here at VCU) are called graduate training programs, because the courses, practica, and internships are designed to produce professional psychologists with the practical skills they need to do their future jobs. This idea, however, applies to much of undergraduate work, too. Courses such as Experimental Methods move you along to a potential career in psychology by furnishing you with the practical tools you need to get into and succeed in graduate school and beyond. Most of your PSYC coursework is a mixture of training and education–it’s training when you learn how to do things in psychology, but anyone might benefit from, say, a course in Child Development or Social Psychology, even if they don’t plan to become psychologists. What students learn can make them better parents and citizens and help them understand themselves. Indeed, one running dispute about college curricula concerns the tendency of professors to see their students as young, unformed versions of themselves–academics or professionalsl–rather than as people looking to learn something interesting about the world and themselves. 451 as I teach it is squarely part of your education rather than your training. I hope to inform, and, with luck, excite, you by learning about psychology as a discipline rather than learning how to do it.
Afterthoughts. This is why the first lecture focussed on the new skills you need to flourish in History of Psychology. You’ve learned how to think like scientific psychologists, to do it (training) but I will be asking you to see it from the outside (another important theme of the first lecture) with the aim of understanding psychology rather than doing it, contemplating psychology rather than practicing it.
One concept that I know is difficult is Nagel’s idea of science as the View From Nowhere. Please don’t hesitate to ask in class for further discussion of it; if you think you have a general (if fuzzy) idea about it, we will be seeing how the idea came into existence in a few weeks and how it helped create the field of psychology.
Forethoughts. The next lecture will continue to develop the special skills you need for History of Psychology, as we look at some special issues and problems that come up in intellectual and scientific history than in history of politics or war. I will also introduce a narrative framework within which we can view the history of psychology as part of history in general.