The Harvard University Courses of Jorge I Dominguez

Jorge I. Domínguez was a professor of Government at Harvard University, with a specialty in the study of Latin American politics.

He was one of the founding teachers of the Harvard College Core Curriculum, in which he taught until his 2018 retirement. The Core Curriculum sought to introduce undergraduates to various approaches to knowledge, in the expectation that learning how to learn would serve students well during their lives.

Domínguez’s best known Core Curriculum course was, “The Cuban Revolution, 1956-1971: A Self-Debate.” He taught it twelve times between 1989 and 2016, with high enrollments (one year nearly reaching two hundred). The course featured lectures and discussion; students could choose discussions in English or Spanish. Domínguez also taught discussions in the lecture hall.

Each lecture was a self-contained argument, with evidence, about a key question. It was delivered with vigor and conviction. The next presented a different self-contained argument, also with evidence, delivered with vigor and conviction, but it contradicted the previous lecture in part or in full. Each unit featured two-to-six lectures on that same topic.

Students had to learn to think for themselves. Exams and papers required them to provide two answers to the same question. It was impossible to agree with the professor because the professor systematically impersonated different points of view. Students became equipped to address complex questions, with uncertain answers, puzzling evidence, during a transformative event.

Students held Professor Domínguez in the highest regard. At the end of each course, students filled out a questionnaire that the Committee on Undergraduate Education administered. One question asked students for their assessment of the professor overall. When graduate student instructors are evaluated in the same way, at the highest range they receive a teaching award. If the same had applied to this course, Domínguez would have earned a teaching award each of the twelve times he taught the course.

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