Sunday, October 23, 2005

Changing Your Mind

Gasp – what a topic. Why on earth would anyone but a wimp every change his or her mind, you might ask. We all remembered what happened to presidential candidate John Kerry when he changed his mind about the second Gulf War: he was widely ridiculed both in the press and by the well-oiled GOP talking points machine (often one and the same) as “flip flopping” (what ever that means). The GOP’s wonderfully effective and creative (and misleading) wind surfing ad is still etched in the retinas of many political TV junkies to this day.

I find it equally appalling and obnoxious that a national leader and role model like George Bush is applauded for “staying the course” and “showing resolve” over the same war, when, now all that the facts are in (there are no WMDs, the Iraqis hate us, there are more terrorists in Iraq then ever before, the country is in shambles and much more unsafe for the general population than it was under Sadam, evil as he was, Iraqi oil is not funding the reconstruction, etc. etc. etc.), it is painfully clear something must change, and soon. But, new information never impacted this curiously uncurious president.

Fortunately for themselves and for the future of this country, my students are different. Three notable cases come to mind over the past several years in my teaching of the research paper as a “process of discovery.”

Several semesters ago, I taught a bright, vivacious woman whose husband wanted her to have breast enhancement surgery. Naturally small and graceful, nonetheless she was concerned about her body image and wondered in her class journal if larger breasts would be pleasing to herself and would be met with approval from her husband and other family members. She was indeed quite interested in the procedure, as her own mother and other females members of her extended family had done this, and she was actually saving money and setting a date for the surgery. Personally aghast but not letting on, I suggested that she research all the pros and cons, as well as all the personal and societal reasons one might want this surgery. Bottom line: she determined that the risks and the costs were such negative factors that she couldn’t justify the operation despite the pressures within her family. I talked to her about a year later, and she still had not gone forward with the surgery. I felt pretty good about this outcome, as it was a clear example where someone was being pressured by a variety of overt and covert factors to make a decision based on faulty or insufficient information. When she got all the available information, she was no longer so keen on the project. Score one for research!

This semester I’ve already had two students tell me their research has impacted them in unexpected ways. One young man, an avid golfer, decided to do a paper about prejudice and discrimination in sports. He had already made up his mind, he told me, that it was okay that women could not play in the prestigious Augusta National, mainly because of the “private club” issue. “I think I’m changing my mind though, because the more I look into it, I see the economic and other issues involved,” he reported. In other words, as he started to examine the economic structure of all discrimination, and sports in particular, he was starting to see that the conventional and uninformed wisdom about the “private club” issue misses larger points and that such discrimination is actually harmful.

But perhaps my most rewarding moment came this morning when I was reading I-Search papers for my online expository writing class. One adult woman in this class has been researching issues around being a “power mom” and families with kids who just do everything and go, go, go. She wanted to know what kinds of stresses this puts on a family’s well-being. “Since I’ve started looking into this, I’ve started to make the time to read to my kids again at bed-time. My eight and nine year old daughters just love this,” she wrote. She also reported that they’ve been restructuring their extra-curricular time (basketball,4-H, etc.) to make family meals an important part of the week, with the kids pitching in. “This is important, to have this kind of family time, I’ve learned.”

It’s outcomes and comments like these that make teaching the wonderful job that it is.

9 Comments:

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Abbie said...

First, I'm guessing you're a liberal? haha but also, that is so awesome that these research projects help so many people. I know that it helps me even the just think about certain things that sometimes with a crazy lifesyle, you don't don't want to think about.

 
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