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Teaching in the Department of Social Sciences


The first edition of this book appeared in 1968 with the modest purposes of outlining useful teaching techniques and describing administrative arrangements within the department. In 1983 a second edition appeared, completely reorganized and rewritten, but with the same objective as its predecessor in providing the benefit of experience of officers who have committed themselves, during the course of their tour of duty in the Department of Social Sciences, to improving that which we are tasked to do – teach the Social Sciences successfully to cadets at the United States Military Academy. The demand for the second edition, both at West Point and at other institutions, quickly exceeded the supply and a third edition was added in 1985.
A fourth edition was written in 1993, taking into account the changes in teaching, curriculum, and the environment at the end of the Cold War in which West Point graduates serve in the Army. In 1996, the Department conducted the 50th year anniversary conference to review and update the curriculum, approach, and teaching methods to ensure that the Department provides the most effective instruction for cadets. In 1999, the Academy published Educating Army Leaders in the 21st Century as the pamphlet that provides operational level guidance for academic departments to achieve West Point’s academic outcome goals. This 5th edition incorporates the curriculum changes that will be implemented for the class of 2005 and updates all material to keep it as current as possible.
Ours is a unique and vitally important mission, to wit: to provide a four year undergraduate education comparable to the finest universities in this country and to provide such an education in the context of the Military Academy’s overall mission which is to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country; professional growth throughout a career as an officer in the United States Army; and a lifetime of selfless service to the nation. Inherent in this mission is the furtherance of the individual cadet’s intellectual, military, moral and physical development.
The material included in this publication is not a recipe for assured success. Effective teaching at the college level is very much a personal activity. What is a good technique for one educator is not necessarily good for the next. The contents of this publication are offered not as prescription but as a set of ingredients from which each of us might draw to enhance and further diversify our respective approaches to the effective teaching of the Social Sciences. If, however, any four guidelines for successful instruction might be concluded from our experiences over the years, they are that consistently outstanding teaching requires:
  • thorough mastery of the subject matter,

  • adequate and timely preparation,

  • enthusiasm for the knowledge we strive to impart, and

  • genuine interest in the cadets we teach.
  • If we pursue these objectives each of us will have framed our task in as positive a fashion as possible. This new edition is designed to incorporate the many changes that have taken place in the USMA curriculum and teaching environment since the materials were last published. Despite the changes, the fundamental objectives remain unchanged as do, we believe, these basic guidelines to effective teaching.
    There is a clear editorial thrust emphasizing two principles that run throughout the book. First, teaching is our highest priority. Our involvement in cadet extracurricular activities, our academic research, and our emphasis on continuing professional development of the faculty are all based on the contribution of those activities to our central task of teaching. Second, we seek an open academic environment that emphasizes mutual respect between the teacher and student and challenges each student to rise to his or her potential. This approach implies a focus not only on our formal courses, but also on the development of intellectual curiosity that will sustain continuing growth as an individual and a professional officer.
    The contents of this volume reflect the accumulated wisdom of hundreds of Department members collected over dozens of years. Take from these pages that which is valuable and relevant to you. Add to these insights your own very special talents, and your students, the Department, and the Military Academy will be the beneficiaries.
    Russell D. Howard
    Colonel, U.S. Army
    Professor and Head
    Department of Social Sciences

    June 2001
    United States Military Academy
    West Point, New York