Friday, December 09, 2005

Changing Your Mind (Part II)

In my last post I mentioned a student whose research project had surprised her, in that she came out in a different spot than where they started. And in an earlier posting I pointed out that the ability to view new facts and change your position or thinking to adjust to these facts is a sign of maturity, not a lack of resolve.

So imagine just how pleased I was yesterday when a young male student of mine (a demographic about which there is much worry now) powerfully made an argument that was in total contradiction to the argument he intended to make at the beginning of his research project. This student, an avid golfer, had intended to defend the position of the Augusta nation in not allowing women to enter their prestigious Masters Golf Tournament. “After all, it’s a private club,” he told me at the beginning of his research process. I’ve mentioned him before in this blog, but now his project is complete, and you can see for yourself the power of his argument by clicking here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

When the Teacher is (Happily) Wrong

I’m always impressed with how much I can learn from my students, both about the research process itself as well as about topics and details I knew little about otherwise, some of which actually break my own preconceived notions. I’m also impressed how my students can take reasonable approaches to controversial issues, approaches that might even defy their own backgrounds or vested interests.

I know that teachers are always given contradictory advice on topic choices for research papers. It’s either, don’t let students write about personal or controversial topics because they won’t learn anything new (which indeed is often the case), or make sure they write about topics that are personal so that they can bring their own knowledge and interests into the effort. I’m a fan of the latter approach, because I’ve seen it work very well, with some surprising results including better understandings and the ability to cope with incest, domestic violence, and in one very moving case, the degeneration over a semester of a student’s husband’s health due to the frightening and sudden onslaught of bi-polar disorder.

And of course, we’ve all seen some real disasters when we let students write about creationism, gun control, abortion and other topics dear to their blessed little hearts.

So imagine my pleasant surprise this semester when at first I rejected a student’s request to write about abortion and she resisted. Actually, I like resistance from students. Not baulking against learning or doing the work (I’ve had that, under the guise that “all this writing is nothing more than rote work” – hardly: practicing writing is no different than practicing jogging – the more you do, the better you get), but rather the kind of resistance that rightfully claims the teacher is not perfect and that maybe the student has a point of view that ought to be considered.

In this case, the young woman patiently heard me out when I explained that I wasn’t interested in yet another emotional anti-abortion argument in which she would learn nothing new. Then, when she made it clear she really wanted to do this topic and felt she could handle it according to my standards, we worked out a path of discovery by which she would research the effects of abortion and come up with alternative solutions. This pleased her and her results pleased me. Check out her project here.

In the same class, an ENG W131 course I should tell you, another woman, a farm wife with horses, sheep and other livestock, told me she wanted to do her paper about wolves. Two alarm bells went off: one, the topic sounded like book report material, and two, I didn’t see how a farm wife could do anything other than take an anti-wolf stance. Thanks, however, to the power of research, her project revealed that wolves care for the eco-system in unexpected ways, making them valuable for farmers and everyone else. Click here if you don’t believe me.

It simply amazes me time and time again how the facts can set you free.