Thirty years of teaching psychology from textbooks and getting negative feedback from students about the complicated or boring content, Psychology Professor Dr. Ed Kardas took on a four-year project to write his own.
Even though he has been teaching from it in his senior-level classes for a few semesters, his fourth textbook, “History of Psychology: The Making of a Science,” was published by Cengage and will be released in April to be used in classrooms around the nation.
“Psychology can be a dry topic if you aren’t careful,” said Kardas. “Psychology is a relative newcomer in the academic scheme of things. Part of the challenge is to tie old ideas to current research in psychology.”
The textbook begins with a chapter called Then and Now which compares the “old ideas” with 21st century psychology and spans prehistory to contemporary concepts in the scientific field.
“It starts out basically saying ‘here’s what we know now. Let’s see how we got here,’” he said.
According to Kardas, what we now call psychology didn’t exist before the 20th century. Psychology evolved over the centuries with many disciplines contributing to its foundation – from philosophy, biology, mathematics and political and social sciences.
“It’s more the totality of how the science of psychology came to be that interests me – how the big picture evolves,” said Kardas.
“Combine these with what I call “big history” – historical accidents that had a big influence on the world,” he said.
As an example, Kardas referenced Hitler’s Germany.
“Most of the German psychologists were Jews,” he said. “They saw the writing on the wall and escaped to the United States – Freud, Erikson and Frankl, etc. Had Hitler stayed in power, German psychology would have been significantly different, so would American psychology.”
He had his own twists in the path that led him to teaching psychology. After initially pursuing a medical career at John Hopkins in Baltimore, Kardas realized that becoming a doctor was not his passion. He would rather be out on the field playing lacrosse than studying subjects for a field he was only pursuing for his mother’s happiness.
“Plain and simple, it was a lack of interest in pre-med and I was competing with people who wanted that all of their lives. I was unfocused and it caught up with me,” he said. “Yet, the Vietnam War was raging and if you weren’t in school, you ended up in Vietnam, so there was pressure to stay in school.”
He stumbled across psychology as a major when he enrolled in the University of Baltimore and declared a major over the phone from a list read to him by an advisor.
“I made her go back and read it to me again,” said Kardas. “I said, ‘Yea. Let’s try that.’ And, that was how I declared my major. The more I learned, the more interested I became in it.”
When he pursued his doctorate from Louisiana State University, Kardas committed countless hours to his studies.
“Grad school can be a grind, but not if it’s something you like to do,” he said.
Teaching became an interest, as he watched and learned from Dr. Bill Wagman, his psychology professor and mentor.
“He was so helpful,” he said. “The one thing that I noticed about him was that he was friends with everyone, but that didn’t keep him from flunking them. He was one of several who influenced me in a positive way.”
He also admits that he learned how not to teach by the examples of professors who left negative impressions on him. He came to SAU in 1980 after teaching stints in Wisconsin and Iowa, where he joined Dr. Joe Bates and Ida Flemister in the psychology department. He has been a motivating presence ever since.
Kardas’ latest textbook delves into prehistory and the topics of human behavior and human development – things about the human species that have remained unchanged in 50,000 years. His goal was to make it educational and interesting.
“You never know how it will be received,” he said. “My biggest hope is that it will appeal to the students and make what can be a dull, dry course more exciting and interesting.”