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Marshall Duke recognized by Oxford American


The current edition of Oxford American (August 2011) “hunted in colleges throughout the region to find influential educators admired by their students and colleagues, whose classrooms serve as forums for social change, whose homes become their classrooms, and, in some cases, whose assignments become homes.”

It should come as no surprise to anyone at Emory that Marshall Duke, Candler Professor of Psychology, was chosen. According to the article:

Professor Marshall Duke’s classes always start off sweet. This approach is based on an old Talmudic practice, where teachers begin their lessons by putting something sweet on their students’ tongues. “I bring in cookies or lollipops to tend to the basic needs we all have. The notion is that learning is a sweet thing.”

Duke has taught psychology at Emory University for the last forty-one years. Two decades ago, he began offering interdisciplinary courses, a method that was particularly groundbreaking, and has since increased in popularity. “It’s more than a trend, it’s a movement,” he explains. “The disciplines are artificially separated. We are in different buildings but we don’t have to be in different places intellectually.” These classes focus on concepts like “Personality in Theater, Art, Music, Literature, and Dance” or “A Novel Approach to the Study of Human Behavior: The Psychology of Fiction.” This past spring he hosted a course called “Fictional People in Literature and Real Life” with his colleague, Professor Walter Reed of Emory’s Department of English, with whom he’s been planning and trading ideas for ten years. “It is challenging to co-teach. We meet for an hour before the class starts and an hour after class is over.”

Professor Duke’s teaching involves Socratic-style dialogues—he asks maddeningly hard questions like “Is there a relationship between creativity and personality?” “Socrates had it right,” Duke says. “Asking questions is much more important than providing answers. It’s more important for people to live with confusion and come up with ideas on their own than to have answers presented to them. I give puzzles and won’t provide answers for weeks.” In this vein, he once showed his students a YouTube video of Salvador Dalí tearing himself out of an egg with a knife and throwing fake blood. He asked his students if they thought Dalí was crazy. Duke says simply, “It’s a question, you know. Is it art or insanity?”

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