Choking

I had an experience the other day that I’m having a really hard time getting over.

Every week, I give my students a couple of quotes that I ask the kids to ruminate and write about.  Last week’s offerings were “a person who is nice to you but not nice to the waiter is not a nice person,” and “what wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?”  I posted some critical thinking questions in which I asked the students to consider whether they could genuinely engage with a person who, because of his or her beliefs, thought that they (the student) was beneath them in some way.

At the end of the week, I collect the students’ writings and we have a discussion about the topic.  For the purposes of jump starting that conversation, I read them this essay in which I muse about a comment I heard someone make about Rick Santorum’s being a “nice guy,” and whether or not I can give my energy and care to someone who really, truly believes that I am a lesser person than they are.

We were having a pretty good conversation – the kids were struggling with the implicit “black and white” quality of the questions we were engaged in – is there a line one crosses between being a “good” person and not? -  when one of the students piped up and said, on no uncertain terms, that she thinks that Rick Santorum is absolutely, completely, and unequivocally correct in both his beliefs and his plans for the country.  She went on to say that it is an outrage that any employer (but particularly religious employers) should be “forced to pay for contraception when they don’t believe in it,”  that there was “never a time when abortion is okay,” and that she would support legislation that would force a woman to gestate and deliver a child conceived in rape.

I was floored by this, not only because, in general, we are a pretty liberal and open-minded bunch at CHS, but also because I had, to that point, yet to meet a woman who was so enthusiastically, almost gleefully, supportive of measures that would seek to limit her own freedom.

I decided to press the question of insurance coverage and tried to keep as far away from the religious implications of her comments as I could.  In the end, though, she was completely unmoved by the facts I presented to her about how insurance coverage works as part of a compensation package; she believes what she believes, and no one is going to change her mind.

I have to remember that this child is a fundamentalist Christian; in fact, I’m pretty sure (though I’ve not inquired too closely) that she’s of the pre-Vatican II, Mel Gibson-style brand of Catholic.  I can’t quite get beyond her obstinate lack of thinking, though; she’s very clearly not following her unfettered support for this candidate through to its logical conclusion – unless, of course, she aspires to the life of an obedient, fruitful wife.  Regardless, I’m troubled by this encounter; I would like to think that, despite the influence of their upbringing, my students would be willing to engage in some energetic critical thinking, and if ever there were a time for energetic critical thinking, it’s now.

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8 Comments

Filed under concerns, critical thinking, debate and persuasion, I've got this kid...., really?!, rhetoric, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

8 responses to “Choking

  1. kizzbeth

    If she’s as fully immersed in her religion as you think she is then I’m sure she does aspire to that kind of life. She’s also a teenager, and quite a sheltered one, she has likely not been in any situations where the gray areas of birth control, abortion, or even fucking poverty have played out in front of her, reaching out to slime her with their thought-provoking tentacles. It’s easy for her to believe Santorum because real life hasn’t touched her. I only hope there are enough registered voters who have been slimed by the tentacles to keep him at bay.

  2. kizzbeth

    Holy fuck WP is doing everything it goddamned can to keep me from commenting! I’m bushed.

  3. www.writetocomprehend.blogspot.com

    First, before I’m written off as a lunatic conservative troll I’d like to say that I’ve been a great admirer of your blog. In fact your 2009 post “Like Moses in the Classroom” is probably my all-time favorite blog entry. I go to it for encouragement every now and again…

    Now, I don’t know the student – but just because she’s a woman and vehemently pro-life doesn’t mean she’s not a critical thinker. Maybe she doesn’t weigh all of Santorum’s ideas against her upbringing – but what student does?

    What surprises me the most is that you would try to sway your students to your political views. (At least, that’s how this post comes across.) I’d feel really queasy about reading that article to my students – no matter how much I hated Santorum. (Maybe it’s because I just read this article: http://dailycaller.com/2012/03/22/va-middle-schoolers-assigned-to-do-oppo-research-on-gop-candidates/ – maybe I’m hyper-sensitive to it right now…)

    Anyway, even if you’re pro-choice you have to be able to see where your student is coming from. If someone honestly believes that life starts at conception, it’s tough to accept abortion as a woman’s right – even for women. (CNN just ran an interesting piece on this: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2012/03/20/tsr-snow-bristol-palin-letter.cnn) I’m sure your student would say that if a woman believes that a fetal human being is not a human being, is a baby human being a human being? Should we get rid of child negligence laws as well?

    I realize half of my post is pointless. The world doesn’t need another pro-life man out there trying to win over pro-choice women. My points are 1. I’m surprised that you tried to avoid the religious, but didn’t try to avoid the political. And 2. Your student is no doubt closed-minded, but maybe you’re not as open-minded as you believe. (Maybe none of us are.)

    Again, hopefully this wasn’t too trollish. If it was, I apologize.

  4. You didn’t come off as a “lunatic troll” at all, and I’m grateful to you for chiming in. I feel as though so much of our general dialogue has devolved to the point where we just stop bothering to talk to each other, and that possibility frightens me, so thanks for speaking up.

    I wasn’t trying to sway my student to my political viewpoint, though I do see that that’s how this post came across. One of the things I try to do is to take opposing stances when my students come up with an idea or a belief; doing so forces them to consider alternate ideas and helps me to clarify my values and beliefs (besides, I want to be “one of the smart guys,” and the only way I’ll do that is by testing my own edges). Since my default is to take the “other side,” that’s what I did with this kid. Most of my students are willing to at least try to play with me and bend their brains to thinking “the other way,” but she wasn’t budging.

    I am a very “live and let live” kind of person. I couldn’t care less if you want to devote your entire life to a particular set of ideals and values – even if those ideas and values run entirely counter to my own. The point that I’m trying to make is that those things are fine FOR YOU; your right to enjoy those customs and beliefs ends when you try to impose them on someone who doesn’t share them with you. Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one. Don’t like contraception? Don’t use it. Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t fall in love with someone of the same sex. No one should be forcing anyone to do (or not do) anything, and my line in the sand is where people – like this girl – advocate for legislation that turns their personal beliefs into public policy.

  5. I went and read (and commented on) the article you linked. It should come as no surprise, but I have no problem with what the teacher did; I love it when people get all worked up about the fact that teachers challenge kids’ assumptions (or say something that may rub against something that parents believe).

    Look; the POINT of education (at least, as I see it) is to develop strong critical thinkers. That means that, at some point, SOMEONE is going to take issue with somethings someone says. I encourage my students to question everything – even (yes, EVEN! Sometimes ESPECIALLY) the things that *I* say. I take no issue with what the teacher did, and I suspect that, had he crafted his lesson to be “favorable” to the Republicans, neither would most of the commentators on that article.

  6. www.writetocomprehend.blogspot.com

    Look, I’m not talking about challenging student’s assumptions – that’s great. I’m right there with you on that one, and I’m sure you really did get her thinking – even if she was being stubborn about her stance.

    This article/assignment may have challenged kids’ assumptions and rubbed against something parents/ society believe, but I don’t think it’s appropriate either.

    I think we’re in agreement on the point of education, but I also think we need to be careful. It’s our responsibility to create strong critical thinkers, not espouse our political views.

    You’re right, had that guy crafted his lesson to be “favorable” to the Republicans, nobody would have commented, but what he truly should have done was have the students who were Republicans expose Republican weaknesses, and the students who were Democrats expose the weakness of the Democrats. Then, when both sides were being disingenuous and watering down their weaknesses, he should have ripped into them. As it is, it doesn’t look like he’s in favor of critical thinking as much as indoctrination.

    Lastly, I’m mostly right there with you on the ‘live and let live’ mentality. But we disagree here a little as well… You said, “No one should be forcing anyone to do (or not do) anything, and my line in the sand is where people – like this girl – advocate for legislation that turns their personal beliefs into public policy.” But we do this all the time – personal belief: stealing is wrong, personal belief: murder is wrong. I’m with you on the majority of the issues – gay marriage, contraception, and probably a whole host of others, but abortion is a bit trickier… One could argue that those having an abortion are forcing their beliefs on an unborn human.

    I know all of our (both yours and mine) arguments are overly-simplified, but who has time for a legitimate harangue these days?

  7. That’s really wonderful. Giving the students such nice quotes can really be very good and useful. It may have many good sides. I think all teachers should use this idea. Thanks for this wonderful idea! Loved it!
    Math Learning Centers

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