Jedi Mind Tricks & Revealing the Wizard

There are two very good reasons for instructors to explain their pedagogical choices to students starting at day 1 and repeating consistently throughout the course: Evaluations and Intellectual Development.


“These are NOT the droids you are looking for”

Control for the outcomes you want to see reflected. For your purpose you can try: “These writing assignments are meant to expand your ability to do research.” “I am working to develop your intellectual depth by reading closely” “This course is ORGANIZED and CHALLENGING, but rewarding.” or “The important part is your voice not mine, in shaping your development this semester.”

The point is, consistently priming and reminding students of the methods behind your madness makes them less likely to beat you with it later when they evaluate you. You might even find them saying things like…. “the course is challenging but rewarding.”

Manipulation of expectation and perception, however, is NOT, of course, the most important component.


“Looking behind the curtain to see the wizard.”

Whether the students understand it or not, there is a reason behind the structure and chronology of your course. For the vast majority of syllabi it reflects the development of the discipline and its families of thought. As scholars we know that knowledge development of scholarly literature is not linear, nor is it comprehensive. Furthermore, the labels we create for things are not REAL. Realism, Institutionalism, Constructivism, Feminism are families of perspective. (the link being an example of the unfortunate reification of these labels) They are not, in themselves REAL things. Allowing our students to believe that is deeply problematic.

Talking about the development of the field reduces reification of labels and helps students understand that inquiry is a conversation, among people, on paper….it does not represent permanent and inherently true knowledge….

I know of two ways to pull back the curtain:

1. Through their own intuition. Put them through scenarios that reveal the logics that we attribute to particular writers. Prisoner’s dilemma behaviors are recognizable even if you don’t know the PD. Victor Asal does a wonderful job of this in his Hobbes game.

2. Explain it to them in narrative form.  Scholarship to undergraduates always has a capital “S” on it. Break it down and explain it in a plain-mouthed manner. “We can’t seem to figure out why it is we can’t stop fighting. Why do we fight?” (wait for an answer) “distrust of others….that is one answer, you know who thought that was Hobbes.”

TELLING THEM exactly WHY I’m doing something often means explaining how IR theory developed over time. Show that to them…and it will deepen their understanding of scholarship and demystify the nature of “knowledge creation.” It also makes scholarship inclusive rather than infantalizing by assuming they are smart enough to take part in the dialogue.

At a minimum, revealing the pedagogical purpose behind a reading, activity, or article makes the swallowing of a bitter pill more pleasant and helps students understand more about the nature of their own intellectual development.