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What's love got to do, got to do with it?

Despite what Tina Turner sang about it, love at IU Kokomo is more than a “second-hand emotion.”

By Mary Ellen Stephenson
What's love got to do with . . . writing research papers, delivering speeches, and creating posters and collages?

Nearly 40 IU Kokomo freshmen are finding out in the two-semester “love” class, better known in the class schedule as: “Topics in Humanities and Topics in Social Sciences: What's Love Got to Do with It?”
Students enjoy a recitation of the lyrics to Gene Chandler's 1962 hit, Duke of Earl, by classmates.

Co-instructors Bob Wildblood, Cindy Ison and Karla Stouse use traditional classroom assignments, plus some touches of Dr. Phil and Hollywood, to teach basic lessons in literature, visual and performing arts, public speaking and social science.

And the focus is always L-O-V-E.

Love is an “absolutely perfect topic,” to catch students' interest, said Stouse, a lecturer in English. “It's so broad, so engaging. Students want to know how to handle their own relationships.”

“The problem is trying to limit what we do, so that it's meaningful to students,” said Wildblood, a lecturer in psychology and a practicing family therapist. “At first, students think love is only a man/woman relationship. It's interesting how their perspective can change in a semester.”

After viewing the Beethoven biographical film, Immortal Beloved, and pictures of Rodin's sculptures, students wrote about romantic passion tied to creativity. And they created their own artwork.

The class also explored sacrificial love, first by watching the film Casablanca, then performing service projects for local nursing home residents and clients of Head Start, Bona Vista and the Kokomo Senior Center. Interviewing the people they were helping opened students' eyes to new life perspectives.

Moving from the “happily ever after” notion of love, this semester the students are studying relationships as social and historical phenomena. They will be reading Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving and Robert Sternberg's Love Is a Story, texts that will help “demystify love and show that relationships can be hard work,” Wildblood said.

Building on oral presentation skills practiced in first semester, students will develop and deliver longer, more organized speeches, emphasizing issues and persuasive techniques. These are more than just academic skills, Stouse told students, when a class discussion turned to “Why don't parents seem to trust teenagers' judgment?”

“In any relationship you're in, people don't always articulate what they're thinking and feeling,” Stouse said. Parental anger “may mask fear, concern, self-doubts about parenting skills. Try to figure out what they're not saying,” she added.
IU Kokomo instructors (left to right) Karla Stouse, Bob Wildblood and Cindy Ison present a choral reading of the Eagles' 1972 rock hit, Hotel California, during “love” class. Students say that one reason the unconventional introductory class in the social sciences and humanities works so well is that the instructors aren't afraid to be “funny and goofy.”

The majority of the students in the class are 18 and 19 year olds, noted Ison, a lecturer in music. “It's surprising how many write about love being painful. They're so young.”

To encourage students to reflect on personal experiences, the three instructors occasionally hold “open microphone” sessions, fielding frank questions about their own marriages and teen years.

Another unexpected “learning tool” during the fall semester was the fact that two of the students brought their infants to class. “The other students could see the work that babies take,” Stouse said. “That battled the myth that a baby will make a relationship better.”

Elementary education major Lindsay Donoho of Frankfort said the class has taught her that “love is complicated. It takes time and dedication to keep love going.”

Nevertheless, Ison, Stouse and Wildblood have made even difficult issues easier to discuss, she said. “The teachers are funny, goofy; they keep conversations going.”

Jason Vogel of Kokomo, who has not yet selected a major, said helping put up Christmas decorations as his service project with a senior citizen group helped him “learn about relationships in general.”

“I learned to listen to other people, hear their stories. It helped me understand why people volunteer and how relationships, even in a job, can grow,” he said.

Improved relationships in the classroom have been another benefit, Vogel said. “When I came in, I didn't know anybody in the class. Now, I know everybody; I've made lots of friends.”

Class is not always a love feast. But team teaching has allowed the students to gain perspectives from English literature, psychology and the arts.

 
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Publication date: January 31, 2003
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