Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My opinion is better than yours!

The Chronicle is running a first-person essay this week bemoans the rise of the belief that all opinions are equal. The author begins with a story of a student who announces that he doesn't agree with Foucault before having read any of his work. The story really rings true for me in my teaching. It is always difficult to get students to come up with a reasoned "why" to justify their opinions.

The article goes on to connect this to appeals of tenure decisions and other faculty member complaints about administration.

His general argument is that reasoned and informed opinions are better than knee-jerk ones. I can't really argue with that point, but the paternalistic "I know better than you" demand that poeple just accept a greater wisdom from above seems problematic.

How can we balance the need for free-flowing discussion and engagement with the demand that opinion be grounded in logic and evidence?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

As usual, the Colbert Report tackles this phenomenon with style:
http://tinyurl.com/yp4twd

David Siemers said...

I'm glad you've brought this topic up because you are on to something very important and profound. At the same time I wish the next post wouldn't have come along so quickly so we could have a bit of dialogue about this.

Fox News has not succeeded in propagandizing 16-25 year olds about the efficacy of war and all things Bush, but what they have succeeded in doing to an amazing degree is teaching students perspectivalism...that is that truth claims are simply traded opinions and that therefore none of them are any more or less valid than any other. In this understanding, to be "fair and balanced" requires presenting two sides, pro and con, rather than investigating which claim (or any other claim) is true. Because most students have bought this conception of what is "fair and balanced" they expect a perspectival approach will be taken by their books, their teachers, and the media. In other words, they are accustomed to wanting traded insoluble accusations rather than a search for the truth. When you present evidence to them that some claim is true, they frequently express qualms that the presentation is not fair and balanced (using that perspectivalist phrase).

The problem with this is that there is the truth out there somewhere, even though it is hard to find. So we have to do a better job of teaching students how to go about finding truth and why evidentiary-based knowledge is better than mere traded opinions.

Of course the ultimate irony in all this is that Fox News, normally thought to be a paragon of conservatism has succeeded in teaching our students an idea that is normally thought of as being very liberal.

Lake Winneblogo said...

David,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

I think it is too easy to blame Fox news for "perspectivalism," though clearly they are purveyors of the idea.

It is really an idea that developed on the left, in academia, through the 1970s and 80s. Academics came to argue two things: First, that culture dominates reality. This is at the center of the arguments of French structuralist and post-structuralist thinkers like Derrida and Foucault.

Second, all of the discourses are essentially equal because there is no reality underneath. If you can change the discourse, you can alter the reality.

Although conservative critics were the most vocal critics of this sort of logic (Remember Allan Bloom), many other right-wingers have taken it to heart. If you accept the premise, then the goal of politics is to dominate the discursive environment.

This is exactly what the Bush administration and Fox News have done so effectively.

The left has been marginalized in this discussion because they have not uniformly accepted the premises above.

Lammers said...

Lake Winneblogo said...

>>It is really an idea that developed on the left, in academia, through the 1970s and 80s. Academics came to argue two things: First, that culture dominates reality. This is at the center of the arguments of French structuralist and post-structuralist thinkers like Derrida and Foucault.<<

Well, I think that gives us a pretty good idea of the department to which Winnie Bloggo belongs ...
;-)

Anonymous said...

hmmm English Department?