One of the main reasons I began writing novels and, more recently, publishing a blog is that I wanted to expand my classroom, where, in any given year, I might reach 100 to 150 students. Through my fiction and essay writing, I’ve been able to share whatever small measure of wisdom I’ve gleaned over my years of living and teaching with a much wider and sophisticated audience, and I have found it quite rewarding.
In addition, I somewhat regularly have folks tell me that they wish they could sit in on my lectures. Others who regularly pass my classroom as they go about their duties tell me they like to stop and listen when they hear me teaching. Therefore, I’ve decided to introduce a new feature to my blog titled “Roth’s Class.” I’m calling it that because that is how the majority of my students refer to whatever course it is they are enrolled in with me. It’s rarely British Literature, American Literature, or Composition; rather, it’s “I got Roth’s class.”
This first installment is from my opening day lecture in College Composition I. As it is a course that requires a significant amount of reading of position essays, the respectful discussion of those essays, and the composing of personal argumentative essays by the students, I spend some time at the start of the semester reminding them of what is required in the practice of respectful discussion/argumentation in an academic environment and that I fervently wish was adhered to by adults in their own discourse rather in the media, in face-to-face conversation, or online.
- Learn to be a discerning reader. Just because something appears in print or online doesn’t make it true or accurate. Challenge what you read.
- Listen attentively.
- Examine all sides of an issue.
- Suspend judgment: Discussion is not debate; it is about communication, not competition.
- Avoid abusive or insulting language. We don’t have to agree with one another’s ideas, but we should respect one another as people.
We then discuss the difference between opinion and fact. This may upset some people, but despite the attempt by a former president’s spokesperson to insist otherwise, there is no such thing as an “alternative fact.” In academia, facts are not up for debate. For example, in addition to what our own eyes should be telling us (It was Dylan who sang, “I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind blows.) and no matter how much the occasional publication of junk science or politically-motivated disagreement with legitimate research pollutes our national intelligence, the overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed research indicates that climate change is real, and anyone who paid attention in science class for over the past two hundred years knows that vaccines work. Similarly, in the teaching of American history and current events, racism has been and remains endemic. To insist otherwise is demagoguery, which is anathema in any serious academic environment and a grave disservice to our youth.
We then discuss from where our opinions emanate, and I encourage my students, who are juniors and seniors, to begin to question whether or not the opinions they entered the classroom holding are truly their own and if those opinions should be made the object of further examination. According to our America Now textbook, the most common sources of opinion are the following:
- Inherited = Those opinions, for better or worse, impressed upon us by our parents usually with good intentions but sometimes wrongheaded.
- Indoctrinated = Those opinions foisted upon us by various sources of authority (churches, government, teachers, coaches, etc.). Like inherited opinions, these are mostly good intentioned but also sometimes off the mark.
- Involuntary = Those suggested to us subliminally. For example, advertising has a long history of portraying females as existing in subordinate roles or serving primarily as objects of male sexual desire. Such portrayals have resulted in young women settling for less powerful roles in every social institution and in young men inappropriately objectifying women.
- Adaptive = Those opinions we alter or “adapt” to the environment in which we find ourselves (“When in Rome . . .) rather than boldly asserting our actual positions.
- Concealed = Those opinions we hold that others might view as slightly or completely wacky; therefore, we keep them to ourselves for fear of judgment. For example, I believe our country could stand to press the reset button on the place of athletics in our academic institutions. I’d like to see all sports removed from them and converted into community-sponsored clubs. I generally keep this opinion to myself because most folks think I’m crazy for even suggesting it.
- Linked = those opinions we hold merely because of the various groups with which we align ourselves rather than thinking for ourselves. Examples of such groups to whom we subsume our opinions include affiliations with particular religions, political parties, unions, sexual orientations, etc.
- Considered = these are our most valuable opinions. They are the ones we arrive at and express only after careful reading, research, discussion, and discernment. Unlike politically-themed television shows and far too many online bloviations by uninformed blowhards, these are the opinions that carry weight in academia.
Granted, this is probably not the sexiest lecture/discussion I lead throughout the year in composition class, but I do think it is one of the most important in the process of helping students to become free-thinking adults in a democracy that demands thoughtful and informed citizens.
If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty