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  1. Bob Friedman permalink
    September 29, 2012 6:11 PM

    I was troubled by Mark’s post on this subject and have given myself a day to think more about what is bothering me. I think a big problem is the list of assertions that he had his students consider. I believe that all of the assertions are inappropriate if all the professor does is assert them. On the other hand, none of these assertions is inappropriate if it is a reasonable conclusion from evidence provided to the students.

    It seems to me that trust is earned by the way a faculty member approaches the evidence. For example, if one only examines Romney’s budget proposal but not Obama’s which might be equally faulty, then students have every reason for their distrust.

    I believe that I am more in agreement with Mark’s claim regarding the selection of facts reflecting the values of those who select them. This is a more subtle and powerful bias, one which I know I am certainly guilty of. For example, I specifically tell the students in my introductory government class that the current election is not about the politicians but about their future and that they need to understand the important social trends and policy choices in order to make informed decisions.

    An important fact, I believe, is not some out of context gaffe which may help or hurt one of the candidate’s prospects in 2012. On the other hand, for example, a news report in the New York Times of September 21 which pointed out that whites without a high school education had lost four years of life expectancy in recent years is both unexpected in terms of recent trends in longevity and extremely important. This finding might be indicative (or might not) of the unraveling of America as a nation. A similar change in mortality statistics presaged the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

    Personally, I believe that professors who believe that their task is to leave their students with “correct” opinions do a disservice to the rest of us who try to encourage students to sort through facts, test ideas and try to make sure that one’s opinions and beliefs are as close as possible to the available, reliable evidence.

  2. October 12, 2012 6:27 AM

    You present such an intriguing exercise for classrooms here. It kinda blows my mind: you’re asking students to consider carefully the question of whether or not politics and political biases/opinions have a place in the classroom, but you’re not asking them that question directly. You’ve taken an inquiry or problem-based learning approach to the topic. I like it.

  3. October 12, 2012 7:38 AM

    Thanks. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but “problem-based learning” is right — and what a problem it is!

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