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Would You Please Start Arguing Part 3 of 4

Where we left off last week is that people have trouble constructively disagreeing and prefer to shut down and dismiss instead of hearing out or seeking out debate and opposition. In fact, some so distrust these actions that they actively distrust journalistic media and academic sources of information.

Expertise and the academy may be in question from some ideological standpoints, but for the students who I encounter, even if they question expertise and the academy, my goal is to find common ground with students —even those who distrust “the media”, and get them to move from cherry-picked information silos toward well-rounded, logical, rhetorically balanced academic argument.

One of the ways I do this is through exposing them to different argument styles, another is through creating information literacy assignments that investigate bias in all sources—using websites like “allsides.com” and “media bias fact check” to help them see that everything has bias and is imperfect logically, which usually allows them to question things they “already believe”…

I find that for all of us, students included, it’s a bit easier to “argue like you’re right but listen like you’re wrong,” as Grant suggests we teach children, if you are treating all sources with suspicion and don’t feel under attack. This approach of arguing and listening that Grant promotes is similar to a style of argument I teach called Rogerian argument, which seeks to build consensus and represent opponents fairly while still making a point. When students work with me toward the shared end goal of creating a strong yet balanced argument, a lot of the rant culture can be set aside for collaborative learning in the classroom setting and in personal argument papers. The goal of a constructive disagreement can be scary, but in a debate on an assigned topic with assigned sources, my students (this week, in fact) will start to see how this can be done and how they can learn from doing it themselves, intellectually.

Grant gives a formula in his article for parents who want to create creative children who have seen how to have healthy disagreements. For those of us who want to tap into creative thinkers who are capable of having constructive disagreements, I offer a different formula:

  1. Ask students to acknowledge that they have biases
  2. Get students to recognize biases in all sources, especially their trusted news media sources
  3. Encourage students to understand before disagreeing and to confirm a point of stasis before counterarguing, to argue as if they’re right but listen as if they’re wrong, and to present facts with a full understanding of the potential biases inherent in the research-gathering-process.

If students don’t make it through this process a couple of times informally and then formally in essays, they wobble when they get to more challenging critical thinking tasks and research argument assignments, and, I imagine, when they’re engaging in the types of informal arguments we are always making in our lives.

Thanks for reading along. Happy Election Day! I voted. In the spirit of constructive disagreements, while I understand and suspect that Mondays were chosen to give folks the weekend to write their posts, I move that next year the deadline is on a different day of the week, Tuesday or Friday instead of Monday–my Mondays are way too busy to remember to post, and my posts are all already pre-written this year.

Next week: more on constructive disagreement and my classroom activities

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