On My Soap Box – Rational Discussions

On My Soap Box – Rational Discussions

I took the kids to get Halloween costumes yesterday and while waiting online at the mall food court, I could not help but over hear a conversation.   The topic debated is not important but one of the statements has caused me to get on my soap box.

“Anyone who thinks that way is an a——!”

Why do we attack people with whom we do not agree? What happened to discussing ideas and trying to see the other point or points of view?  What happened to asking someone to back up their ideas, ask about the facts or the assumptions used to support their arguments?  Have we become intellectually lazy? Maybe in a discussion of ideas and the reasoning and analysis of those ideas you might just persuade the other person to your way of thinking.  Or God forbid, you might actually learn something about your own.

In this age of Information and all our discussions about information literacy why do we not use some of the same principles in our conversations? As educators do we not encourage critical thinking and analysis, can we help our students apply these skills outside of the classroom?

As I have grown older my views have varied widely over a range of issues.  As I experience life, learn new information and test out my thinking I have had to change and modify my understanding.  Maybe I am a constructivist at heart and view learning as a fluid process of constant change and growth.

In my online teaching the focus in the discussion forums is to use Socratic questioning.  We take on the role of the curious questioner, as the facilitator at times I become the ‘devil’s advocate’.  Students present opposing views and through questioning we try to stimulate thought and develop a deeper understanding of the ideas.   We ask each other to outline the facts and look at the underlying assumptions and inferences in their  arguments.  We agree to accept that there is more then one correct answer or opinion. The goal is to explore an idea from a variety of angles. The reasoning process is stressed not just the idea being discussed.

My learning networked is comprised primarily of educators. As I look at my twitter and plurk feeds I see that there are times we do not practice what we teach.  I too find that I respond emotionally, I am doing that now, and not always rationally.  I need to start asking questions and try to understand these differing points of view and the reasoning behind them.  You never know I might learn something.

4 thoughts on “On My Soap Box – Rational Discussions

  1. Hi Beth,
    I ran across your blog and just wanted to say that I think this is a great post. I wish that more people would have rational discourse, but for me I know it can become easy to think that we used to discuss issues rationally and these days we are losing sight of that when I think this tendancy to speak from emotions has been the same, if not worse in the past.
    I wonder if looking at the segregationists during the civil rights movement wouldn’t elicit the same “Whoever thinks like that is an a__” response from myself, or any other subject today that we take as self evident from history.
    My point is that I think what you are doing in the classroom is great, and that critical thinking skills has been a tough subject to convey all throughout history, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. We should always be moving towards the goal of being able to think of any situation from all sides, and basically never let up. Don’t get discouraged if you think we used to do better in this area! I think folks like you are making a difference, even though I know it can be hard to tell at times!

  2. Beth,
    Reading this entry was great because in my classes to become a high school history teacher I am learning to be respectful of all beliefs dealing with politics, religions, and life values. I often get irritated with people that have different beliefs than I, but it is important to realize and understand that everyone is raised differently and has the right to have their own beliefs. This entry really hit home for me this importance, especially when it comes to the classroom because of the many cultures and beliefs I will soon encounter when I become a teacher in a couple years. Thank you for this quick reminder as to how we should all treat others, even if they have a different belief system than my own.
    Lydia

  3. Today’s public school classroom is the product of approximately 100 years of systemic fine tuning.

    As a result, at the core of the system we have School Board, Superintendent, Principal, Teacher, Student.

    This structure protects itself in a very aggressive manner, no matter who says what about what.

    Teachers are “given” a curriculum to teach. In many districts, steps have been taken to protect the student from teacher interference with the assigned curriculum. So called “teacher proofing” the classroom.

    Texts guide the classroom, and principals are responsible for making certain that his or her teachers are teaching what the school board has approved and in the way the school board has approved.

    We read often of teachers who have attempted something innovative. When that happens and a parent (just one) complains, the system has plenty of room to scapegoat, and the teacher is the most expendable and cheapest way to rid the district of the “problem.”

    A student can be as inquisitive as he or she wants to be. However, the public system is not set up to address individuality. It is set up to “socialize.”

    If it were otherwise, children would not be segregated by age as if they were apples on a tree maturing at the same time and in the same way, and presented a credentialed teacher who has promised to deliver the curriculum fairly and evenly to everyone irrespective of interests or ability.

    Innovation is marginalized (There’s always some going on at the fringes to satisfy the progressives), but the system itself is preserved with hundreds of billions of dollars of power invested yearly to make certain all teachers are the same, teaching the same thing, in the same way to everyone, no exceptions.

    If you were a teacher walking into a classroom of 25-30 students, handed a text book from which to teach, not knowing a thing about the individual interests or passions of the students you are about to address, what is the overriding message of such a structure. It’s certainly not, “Let me know who you are as a person, and I will try to excite you intellectually regarding this subject based on your individual interests.”

    The classroom system of the 1950’s and the classroom system of 2010 are the same. It is only the rhetoric that has changed.

    I am a public school teacher. I have taught in several districts in an attempt attempt to free myself to address the needs of my students.

    I know now, as long as I remain in the public schools accepting tax payer money, I will always fail to reach the goal of putting the student first. Preserving the system comes first in the public schools. Everything and everyone else is expendable.

    I have labored hard and long before accepting this harsh reality.

  4. I feel your frustration. But I am working in the system and continue to ask the questions, and try to direct people back to the basics and remind people to focus on student needs. I am working with some terrific teachers and administrators who see the need for change and continue to push the system to change.

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