But I teach that!

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Introduction to Psychology is the hardest course we teach because we are unfamiliar with so much of the course content (Frantz, 2024). We rely heavily on our textbooks to tell us what we—and our students—need to know about the field. This creates an unfortunate feedback loop that is difficult to break. Let’s take the personality chapter as an example. I am not a personality researcher nor did I take a personality course as an undergrad for my major. Yet, here I am teaching Intro Psych, and it seems like personality is a pretty important topic, so I’m game for teaching it.

Step 1. I read the personality chapter in the Intro Psych textbook I have adopted. “This must be what Intro Psych students should know about personality.”

Step 2. The personality chapter spends a lot of time on the history of personality theory, so I spend a lot of time lecturing on the history of personality theory.

Repeat Step 2. Every term. For years.

One day, the personality researchers were asked, “What should we teach Intro Psych students about personality?” They said, “Please focus on today’s personality research, and stop teaching the history of personality theory.” (See pages 8 to 16 of the 2017 Division 1/Division 2 Joint Task Force Report on Introductory Psychology.)

Step 3. Authors of Intro Psych textbooks listen to the personality researchers. The authors greatly pare back the coverage of the history of personality theory in the personality chapter.

Step 4. The publishers of those Intro Psych textbooks send the personality chapters out for review. They ask people who use the textbook—or who might one day use the textbook—what they think of the chapter.

Step 5. The reviews come back. The personality researchers who review the chapter are thrilled! “Finally,” they say, “Intro Psych students are going to be learning about what we are really doing in the field.” Everyone else, though, is ticked off. “Wait! Where is the coverage of Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis?! Where is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?! You can’t take that content out! I teach that!!”

Let’s stop here for a minute to reflect.

Why am I teaching the history of personality? Because many, many years ago when I first started teaching Intro Psych, the personality chapter in the textbook I used devoted many, many pages to the history of personality. That’s it. I don’t have any independent knowledge of personality. Because this is what I have always taught, this is what I think should be taught.

Step 6. The publishers read the reviews. There is a very short stack of reviews saying, “Yay! Thanks for taking the history out of the personality chapter!” Those are primarily the reviews from the personality researchers. There is a very tall stack of reviews saying, “WTH?! Put the history back into the personality chapter, because I teach that!” Those are reviews from everyone else, including the neuroscientists, developmental psychologists, and cognitive psychologists.

Step 7. The publishers tell the Intro Psych textbook authors, “Look at all of these instructors who won’t adopt our book, because this chapter doesn’t cover what people want. You have to put the history back in.”

Step 8. The Intro Psych textbook authors respond with, “But… But…” And the content goes back in.

As someone who has reviewed plenty of Intro Psych textbook chapters, I own that I was part of the problem. In retrospect, I should have said, “I know you want me to review five chapters, but I’m really only expert in two of these: research methods and social.” If they insisted that I pick three others, I should have said, “Okay, I will also review neuroscience, sensation and perception, and personality, but understand that I will defer to what the experts in those areas think should be in the chapter. For example, yes, I cover dark adaptation in the S&P chapter, but if the S&P researchers don’t think that’s important, I’m fine not covering it.” (And, indeed, S&P researchers do not think coverage of dark adaptation is particularly important. See page 7 of the 2017 Division 1/Division 2 Joint Task Force Report on Introductory Psychology. If you ever heard Scott Lilienfeld’s talk on Intro Psych, you’ll remember he had a great story about a reviewer’s thoughts on his dark adaptation coverage in his textbook.)

“Yes, I teach that, because… well… I guess because I have always taught that.”

Psychology is a dynamic field. Is having taught particular content a good enough reason to keep teaching it?  Or should what we teach be just as dynamic as our science?



Frantz, S. (2024, April 4). Intro Psych: The hardest course we teach. Macmillan and BFW Teaching Community. https://community.macmillanlearning.com/t5/psychology-blog/intro-psych-the-hardest-course-we-teach/b...


About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.