Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Shattered mirror

Today's HON 479 discussion was the liveliest yet, with most students having strong, often visibly visceral reactions both to the inequities Kozol describes in The shame of the nation and to the assertion of Allison Benedikt that folks who send their kids to private schools are evil. (In her piece, a soi-disant manifesto, Benedikt offers a rather extremist take on the moral and ethical obligations we have to support our public school systems.)

Time was of the essence. I had a list ten students long of folks who wanted their turn to say a few words, generally in response to one another. "I wanted to echo something so-and-so said..." and "I have to disagree with so-and-so..." were common phrases. A healthy academic conversation is, in part, one in which the students engaged in the conversation respond authentically to each other and not to the perceived authority figure (i.e., the teacher). I could have left the room to no ill effect. Much of what I'd hoped would come up came up, anyway, including connections between not just Kozol and Appiah (cosmopolitan conversations, if only with kids from across town, breed healthy familiarity and better democracy) but also between Appiah and Benedikt (ought to have oughts, but we ought not let our oughts overwhelm our own self-interest).

I also continue to be impressed with the students' civility, respect, and supportiveness. In class today there was disagreement aplenty, but never any friction. The culture of the classroom was friendly enough to encourage a couple of the visiting HON 179 students to chime in with their views as well. These HON 179/479 exchanges are working wonders. The 479 students are enjoying their visits to the various 179 courses, and the 179ers are often contributing meaningfully to the discussions we have in 479.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to reading the 479ers' responses to Benedikt. I'll likely ask students for permission to excerpt their work on this blog.

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