Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Argument and War
In addition to working as the Director of New Media for a college textbook company, I also teach first year college writing as an adjunct about once a year. I'm not teaching now, but I wonder what I would be teaching about the rhetoric around the war if I were teaching now.

I think the trick would be helping students write persuasively even when I fundamentally disagreed with their positions. And as part of that, sharing my opinions and thoughts during class discussions in a way that doesn't make students believe they have to adopt them. It's a delicate balancing point that I know many teachers are trying to find.

Jonathan Zimmerman had an op. ed. in Sunday's Boston Globe (No point in linking; you have to pay to get it now.) where he pointed out that people tend to believe that if they make a good argument, others, being reasonable, will agree. And when people don't agree, we tend to view them as unreasonable, even suspect, even evil or looney or against us. Both the left and the right in this debate fall into that trap. They forget that reasonable people can disagree, and they see anyone who disagrees with them as defacto unreasonable. So Zimmerman reminds us:

Both sides, then, are operating in profoundly bad faith: they each presume that decent, knowledgeable people will agree with them. But the true democratic faith, the one that John Dewey proclaimed, teaches us that decent people disagree -- often profoundly -- about the same knowledge. Now, more than ever, it's a lesson that all of us need to learn.

I think if I was teaching now, I'd try to teach my students that. So they'd listen to one another, and then discuss differences without attacking motives and personalities.

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