For the first time, I will have gotten something out of a class besides a letter grade: an education.

Interdisciplinary studies was able to transform the way that I understood and interpreted information without forcing busy work, assigned textbook readings and lectures. Initially, I wasn’t sure what this course would be like or what I would get out of it but the end result has been truly rewarding. The word “interdisciplinarity” didn’t hold meaning to me until I began curating my program of study. I quickly found that there was a paradox within developing my contract. A contract, defined as a legally binding and enforceable agreement, was the way that I found freedom in learning. img_20161206_135443A contract can be a restricting commitment, but I found my interdisciplinary contract to be a covenant of educational liberation.

I’ve reinterpreted my understanding of what interdisciplinary studies is by dismantling and rebuilding the lessons learned in class and applied them outside of the classroom. For the first time, the information that I was learning was relevant enough to exist within my own life. In August, I only implied that interdisciplinary meant more than one discipline and now I recognize it as a collective learning experience. Being interdisciplinary allowed me to combine my distinct disciplines to invent a program that I was able to be excited about, one that I identified with. The open pedagogy approach became a hallmark of IDS mindset. I was taught how to build a personal learning network, how to research, how to write and how to learn. Open pedagogy put an emphasis on student construction, a main focus point in the course. With the ability to build my own program, I created a major that encompassed my passion for business while still having the allure of creativity. For the first time, was excited to be learning. Outreaching was the moment I realized I was exactly where I needed to be to get the education that I worked so hard for. For the first time, a class revolutionized my ability to articulate the special vision I had for my career by creating a different kind of learning experience. In class we discussed topics of open education and connected learning by recognizing how we can better utilize them in an interdisciplinary education. We learned to work together as a class to build a textbook and then separately, to build our specific programs of study. My peers and I collaborated closely to present work that was lasting and would reflect the progress that we had made through the semester.

My sincere hope for the future of interdisciplinary studies here at Plymouth State and beyond is for it to continue establishing its educational platform. img_20161206_135429For the first time, a single major defied the conventions which had glorified single discipline programs. This allowed students to have the subtle luxury to choose courses based on their unique interests and career goals instead of taking a “one size fits all” major, which can marginalize students who don’t fit within that single discipline. For the first time, the educational intent of a program is pioneered by the student and not their university. Interdisciplinary studies reflects the changes in our technology and society by encouraging its students to stay connected by empowering them to continue learning outside of the classroom. A degree should not be the final word in education, but the start. Establishing myself within this program and its community of learners has created a triumphant return of my love for education, and it feels as if I’m learning again for the first time. 



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J.R.R Tolkien & Bruno Bettelheim: The Intended Audience

Entertaining, magical and captivating, fairy tales have been an oral and written tradition for many centuries through various parts of the world. Today we know popular fairy tales through Walt Disney and Dreamworks, but who were their predecessors, and who was the original intended audience for these stories? Bruno Bettelheim and J.R.R. Tolkien are both recognized for their distinct views on fairy tales. Bettelheim, a children’s physiologist, believed that, “fairy tales have unequaled value, because they offer new dimensions to the child’s imagination which would be impossible for him to discover as truly on his own” (Bettelheim, 7). Tolkien, a writer and fairy tale enthusiast, had an opposing view. “Actually, the association of children and fairy-stories is an accident of our domestic history” (Tolkien, 11). So which is it? Are fairy tales limited to children or can they exist within our adult lives, I believe Bettelheim has the answer.

Bettelheim’s view of children’s literature and fairy tales takes a concrete approach to learning the way in which children understand stories. He believes that stories are developed to help children understand real problems with the help of fantasy. Upon reading Bruno Bettelheim’s, The Struggle for Meaning, he wrote that “…a child needs to understand what is going on within his conscious self so that he can cope with that which goes on in his unconscious”(Bettelheim, 7). Fairy tales are able to offer explanations to the child about their real world problems and struggles and Bettelheim recognizes this. In his Introduction to The Struggle for Meaning he writes that, ” …the child fits unconscious content into conscious fantasies, which then enable him to deal with that content” (Bettelheim, 7). Doing this allows the child to see himself in the hero and identify with the hero’s successes and the hero’s failures, learning the mistakes and lessons through a character from the story.

Contrasting Bettelheim to Tolkien can help us better define the interpretation of a fairy tale. Called a Fairy Story, Tolkien immerses himself and his readers into a Faerie realm, a place where a reader should not be caught up in words or writing, but rather relax and allow the qualities of the story inspire the reader. He states that there is a distinction between fairy tales, travelers tales, Beast-fables and Dream stories, and not to compile each together. Tolkien has a stranger, more complex view of fairy tales and believes that they can do an adult more good than a child as children have not developed a taste for good literature. “But in fact only some children, and some adults, have any special taste for them; and when they have it, it is not exclusive, nor even necessarily dominant” and concludes that adults appreciate the stories more because, “…is is certainly one that does not decrease but increases with age” (Tolkien, 11, 12). It’s clear that Tolkien wants his stories to exist outside of the confines of a child’s playroom and in the minds of appreciative readers.

While Tolkien advocates for the literature of the stories, Bettelheim continues to expand on the belief that fairy tales play an important role in the development of a child. Children are able to begin identifying problems within themselves with the help of fairy tales. The child’s introspection of the story helps him face issues of morality, right from wrong and victories. “Because of this identification the child imagines that he suffer with the hero his trials and tribulations, and triumphs with him as virtue is victorious. the child makes such identifications all on his own, and the inner and outer struggles of the hero imprint morality on him” (Bettelheim, 9). In a muted fashion, fairy tales explain existential dilemmas in the simplest of ways so that the child can understand the problems that the story offers. An example that Bettelheim uses is the story of the Three Little Pigs. Through this short fairy tale, the child quickly learns that the pig who spent the most time building his house instead of playing was the victorious one who saved the day. The child may remember this story the next time he is faced with a task and will choose to put more effort in like the third pig. Bettelheim explains that, “The child identifies with the good hero not because of his goodness, but because the hero’s condition makes a deep positive appeal to him. The question for the child is not ‘Do I want to be good?’ but ‘Who do I want to be like?’ … If this fairy-tale figure is a very good person, then the child decides that he want to be good, too.” (Bettelheim, 10).

The learning initiatives provided to children through fairy tales are unparalleled to what a fairy tale can offer an adult. Tolkien dissociates the popular idea that fairy tales are for children by reminding his readers that children are still humans, just like us. “I think that this is an error; at best an error of false sentiment, and one that is therefore most often made by those who, for whatever private reason (such as childlessness), tend to think of children as a special kind of creature, almost a different race, rather than as normal, if immature, members of a particular family, and of the human family at large.” (Tolkien, 11). I agree with Tolkien’s view on this, but have to point out that Tolkien undeniably writes for a different audience. Wordy and full of imagery, a child would not be able to keep up in the Faerie realm that he creates.

Fairy tales hold meaning to individuals of all ages. I appreciate that Tolkien has a true love for fairy tales, writing and storytelling, but I believe that Bettelheim does a better job distinguishing that a fairy tale holds more power to a child than an adult. Fairy tales are some of the first places where we begin our reading, where our imaginations develop and where we begin understanding problems that are bigger than ourselves. A fairy tale enlightens, enriches and does more justice for the child than it could do for the adult.




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The Hero and the Heroine’s Journey

There is a distinctness between the Hero and the Heroine’s journey. The Hero’s journey is masculine, setting out to adventure and conqueror great tasks to achieve rewards or wisdom. The Heroine, however, is more feminine. Instead of being called to adventure to preform a great deed, she is faced with a personal journey, one that helps her find her true love and true home. While the Hero fights and wins, the Heroine dies and waits to be saved. There is greater room for artistic license for the Hero’s journey, we won’t know who his allies or foes are, or what battles will lie ahead of him. The Heroine is an archetype. We know that she is beautiful, that she must escape from an evil witch or mother, that she will make friends in an enchanted forest, and that she will die, only to be saved by her true love. The Hero is cast as a smart, brave, warrior and the Heroine is made into a beautiful fool who eats too many rotten apples.


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Paid Piper, Tanith Lee

This was an interesting depiction of the classic story, Pied Piper, which I had just recently come to know. This story was more appealing to me as it was focused on folklore and not a fairy tale, I appreciated it’s down to earth content. Again, I noticed that Lee incorporated the thread of religion in this tale as she did in Red as Blood and it’s interesting to see how much more depth it gives the story. I was enticed by the Piper: exotic, mysterious and simple. He was simple in the way that he understood the world. “The cage, or the world”, he offered to Lime Tree. In doing this, he was straightforward in his message that the best things in life are free, and aren’t to be so devoutly worshiped. His uncomplicated approach to a better life left the village in an uproar and he left promising to take their children. This subtle spin on the classic tale left me thinking about my own desires and worships and if I would so easily choose a cage or the world.

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The Tale of the Frog Prince

This was a very uniquely portrayed story and reminded me of Jim Henson’s, “Hey, Cinderella!” a movie I loved to watch growing up. The two characters in the Frog Prince interacted in an argumentative fashion, each holding a strong disdain for the other. The Princess couldn’t be bothered by a lowly Frog and the Frog couldn’t stand the materialistic mindset of the Princess. The role of the princess in this story was that she was vain and deceitful, only thinking of herself. The Frog croaked back that “one person can hardly be called a society” which nicely summed up the way many fairy tales rely on the princess as the center of the plot.

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Little Snow White & Red as Blood

Essentially, the two stories, Little Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, and Red as Blood by Tanith Lee, are depictions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Each story follows a similar plot: A mother gives her daughter, Snow White, distinct features. Hair black as ebony, skin white as snow, and lips red as blood. The mother then has an all foreseeing mirror who assures her that she’s the fairest in the land, until she’s not. Each mother, birth and step, become angry at Snow White and seek to kill her to remain the most beautiful in the land. Both stories revolve around vanity, jealousy, power and lust. The mothers vanity drives her to kill her daughter so that she can remain the most beautiful. I really enjoyed reading Red as Blood for the religious component, an interesting spin. In this version Snow White isn’t a feeble minded girl but a watchful and understanding princess who quickly identifies to her father her step mothers intentions. Complimented through distinct subtleties, both stories tell about a vengeful, evil mother and a beautiful daughter.

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Week One Response

I’ve grown up with the fairy tales of Walt Disney: princesses, glass slippers and forbidden fruits. Growing up, I was enchanted by the stories but as I grew older the happy endings and musical scores became cliches. I hope to learn about the origins of fairy tales to help keep my interest in them alive.

I remember being in middle school and learning about the Grimm Brothers original version of the Little Mermaid story and feeling shocked but excited at how gruesome it was. It left me wondering what the purpose of the story was and who it was intended for. Later on I found other stories and nursery rhymes to be equally as dark and my interest peaked for unhappy endings (needless to say I was a big fan of GOT Red Wedding…) and a more realistic approach to fantasy.

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It’s with the rise of the growing Third Millennium that big changes are made throughout our universities. It’s evident that we utilize current technology in our education: LiveTweeting through assigned readings, constructing work through group chats, and submitting papers via an online classroom. This shift in our current technology has impacted the way we learn, we’re connected.

Oskar Gruenwald, the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Institute of Interdisciplinary Research, believes that Interdisciplinary Studies and approaches are on the forefront of the new university system. In his article, The Promise of Interdisciplinary Studies: Re-Imagining the University, he writes that,

In the Third Millennium, interdisciplinary approaches to learning suggest new methodologies that seek dialogue and integration of research findings across the disciplines to overcome the compartmentalization of knowledge which hinders new discoveries in the natural sciences and “connecting-the-dots” in the social and behavioral sciences, while humanities are key to understanding the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of human beings.”.

He believes that University as we know it is in crisis and that a re-invention is necessary. Our current system of higher education lacks a distinct wholeness, a connection outside of a traditional discipline. Gruenwald anticipates that more schools adapt to an interdisciplinary approach, although many already have. Brown University, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State University, University of Florida, University of Notre Dame, and (drum roll, please) Plymouth State University, are among a growing list of schools that are implementing connected learning. Just this year, Plymouth State introduced their Integrated Cluster Approach: “A multi-disciplinary, innovative and hands on approach to learning” essentially becoming one of the first schools in the United States to integrate multidisciplinary work on the grand scale of the university. screenshot_20161003-134117Gruenwald recognizes that there are challenges that come with introducing an interdisciplinary approach but notes that student involvement isn’t one of them. “What attracts students most to interdisciplinary studies is the prospect of clarifying the interrelationships among various fields that show the relevance of theory to practice and real life” he writes.

This information comes as no surprise to my Interdisciplinary Studies peers and I, as we are learning exactly what we want, how we want. We’re intentional, receptive and connected; feeling as though we are entrepreneurs of a new generation of learners.

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I find it interesting that a discussion about Interdisciplinary Studies ultimately becomes a conversation about qualifications. It’s without fail that I will explain my approach to Marketing & Creative Services and will no sooner be asked what classes I’m taking, why I chose those particular classes, why didn’t I just major in marketing (wow, I’ve never thought of that before) and the dreaded,

“What do you plan on doing with that”.

Their initial curiosity transforms into speculation as they furrow their brow, unsure of my direction. No one questions the career intent of a biology major or a professional sales major, so why does a degree in interdisciplinary studies become a question of my future success? fb_img_1479243101311

There is an attitudinal barrier that separates how people perceive the quality of an education from a traditional, single discipline student, versus a non-traditional, interdisciplinary student. In the article, Barriers to Interdisciplinary Research and Training, it elaborates on the belief that interdisciplinary work is less challenging and more high-risk with the idea that,”those who do collaborative work could not succeed in their own discipline; they would be lost in a team effort and ‘lose their professional identity'”. There are social and academic obstacles that come with studying in an interdisciplinary setting that undeniably set us apart from our peers, and this led me to wonder, how will our degree set us apart in the workplace?

Interdisciplinary Studies allows its students to create their own professional identity and brand themselves based on the disciplines within their program. Yet, even with a diverse background and comprehensive training in each of my fields, I’m worried that I won’t find my niche in the job market. I’m afraid of that dreaded, “you can’t sit with us” moment. Self-doubt and employment rates aside, it’s my fundamental belief that my major has allowed me to be more qualified than other candidates. In comparison to applicants who would all have a single marketing degree, my degree would encompass marketing, communications and visual studies, granting me additional skills outside of a single discipline and help expand my career opportunities far beyond a cubicle farm. Being versed in several disciplines isn’t the only benefit I can present to employers, simply being interdisciplinary teaches a student so much. My work ethic, problem solving and initiative are heightened, but the leadership skills I’ve gained have been a milestone in my professional and personal development. Barriers to Interdisciplinary Research and Training wrote,

“Interdisciplinary research teams need leaders who understand the challenges of group dynamics and who can establish and maintain an integrated program. Leaders need to have vision, creativity, and perseverance… to coordinate the efforts of a diverse team requires credibility as a research scientist, skill in modulating strong personalities, the ability to draw out individual strengths, and skill in the use of group dynamics to blend individual strengths into a team”.

It’s easy for me to be afraid of the challenges that may lie ahead when it comes to my career opportunities or personal success, but it’s easier to trust that Interdisciplinary Studies has prepared me for those challenges. So, the next time someone asks, “what do you plan on doing with that” it won’t be a question of qualifications but rather a chance where I can elaborate on all that I’m qualified for.

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Hello Student,

The traditional education and university system will fail you. They will give you a degree but will not sincerely prepare you for the real world. Groomed to not question the educational assembly line that has been laid out in front of you, your next four years in higher education will fly by. Honor grades, test scores and low quality of work will allow you to navigate through your previously designed major with ease.


Wouldn’t you like more from your education? Interdisciplinary Studies identifies the exceptional from the common by reaching beyond a single discipline to create an engaging learning experience. In Ronald A. Styron Jr’s,  Interdisciplinary Education: A Reflection of the Real World  he believes that an honest interdisciplinary approach to education is what is needed to: “better connect theory and content with application, and better prepare students for the real world of the 21st century”. It’s true that interdisciplinary studies is the connecting link between education and application and does so through its open pedagogy approach. Hallmarks of open pedagogy are its ability to be expansive, open, and give construction back to the student.

Student construction is one of the many reasons I feel like I belong in Interdisciplinary Studies.

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In my blog post, Outreaching, I discussed why I had to extend myself out of the confines of my traditional discipline and into something more suited with my real life career goals. With this freedom I gained an appreciation for what I was learning. Styron Jr. writes about this feeling as, “interdisciplinary education helps to increase student achievement by promoting positive attitudes toward subject matter, creating curricular flexibility, and integrating rapidly changing information with increased efficiency”. I was never interested in just one discipline, but many. Instead of just using critical thinking and traditional learning methods I began to utilize my creativity and was encouraged to collaborate with my peers by using the system of open pedagogy. Interdisciplinary Education: A Reflection of the Real World, highlights the benefits of open pedagogy:

“This increases the ability of students to make decisions and synthesize knowledge beyond single disciplines,increase the ability to identify, assess, and transfer significant information needed for problem solving, gain a better overall comprehension of global interdependencies, and develop multiple perspectives, points of view, and values.”

Do not let the traditional ways of education dishearten you to what your education can be. No complex issue can be solved with a single discipline, single belief system, or by a single individual. An interdisciplinary education is the best approach to prepare students for complicated experiences outside of the classroom by teaching them interdisciplinary pedagogical strategies. It’s from my own personal assessment that I can testify to this strategy as I have gained copious amounts of new skills and better understood concepts from being outside of a traditional classroom.
An Interdisciplinary Studies Student
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