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Annette Gourgey wrote:
"Our school is also sending faculty suggestions on how to open up
discussion [on recent terrorist attacks].

One of my concerns is whether students will begin to argue about political
issues.  In our multiethnic university, there may be substantial
disagreements, blame, or defensiveness."

While I understand the impulse of instructors to create a safe
environment in the classroom, I don't think we should seek out
harmony at all costs. First of all,  anger and hostility and argument
are as much a part of life and the human condition as love and
happiness. I think educators should seriously reflect upon attempts
to sanitize (or some might say "censor") the discussions that occur
in their classes. Allowing certain types of expressions of opinion or
sentiment and not others based upon value-laden criteria amounts to
undue (ideological) control in my book. Second, education should, in
my view, address the issues of importance to students and teachers.
The latest attacks are inherently political and rooted in
socio-political events of the last decades no matter how
ahistorically they are presented by the popular media and how much
the Bush (and  the last several) administration(s) have tried to spin
them otherwise. So, if we are going to broach these issues in our
classes in a way that allows people to truly express themselves in a
manner that is authentic and potentially cathartic and healing then
we must be prepared to deal with the anger, bigotry and politicalness
of these discussions. I don't think instructors instating rules about
what will and will not be discussed and in what ways is much better
than excluding recent events from our class discussions, and, more
importantly, are unlikely to yield the kinds of results that
instructors are hoping for by initiating these discussions in the
first place. To my mind having authentic discussions (which sometimes
go awry and get out of control) in educational environments is
appropriate and necessary. All of us, not least young people, need to
learn HOW to have an argument, how to express our feelings publicly,
how to  state our political positions in a forum and in a way that is
meaningful to ourselves and others. And true learning requires
actually doing these things. What better context is their to address
the messiness of a process of this kind then in an educational
environment such as a college classroom?

Lastly, speaking personally, I  know I have many times learned
important things about myself, about the world around me, and about
how to argue from engaging in politically charged and emotionally
charged discussions like the ones some would like to
eliminate--though, granted, few were in classrooms. True, at times
such discussions have been threatening and frustrating--but I hasten
to add that sometimes these troublesome ones were the most
educational of all. By not permitting such discussions in the name of
harmony ( or some might say merely masking divisiveness) I would
deny my students opportunities for authentic learning that have been
very important to me and my development. That is, by controlling
discussions we and our students stand to lose a great deal, and this,
to get to my main point, should be kept in mind as we make these
decisions not only for ourselves but for our students.

Best of luck untangling this knotty issue,
Nic
--


Dominic J. Voge
UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education
Language, Literacy and Culture
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"I have spent a lifetime learning to read." --Goethe
"The best educated human being is the one who understands most about
the life in which he is placed."--Helen Keller