Beyond the Grade: On Respectful Disagreements
Beyond the Grade is a series of posts sharing minimally refined reflections written in dialogue with students’ ideas during the grading process.
Some of our best ideas are gems that must be mined from hard rock, laboriously refined and polished. Others come to us spontaneously during meaningful experiences or encounters with others. As a professor I've found that I am often at my most creative in dialogue with students, which is why I love the classroom experience. I've also found that some of my clearest ideas and expressions occur as organic responses to students’ written work: when I’m inspired to go beyond noting errors and successes of form and obedience to rubrics, and address their substantive expressions. This section of the newsletter seeks to honor what the philosopher and social critic, Ivan Illich (1926-2002), so eloquently described as the “poetic surprise of the unplanned.”
One of the joys of teaching is helping students learn to acknowledge and engage opposing views in an intellectually honest and responsible way. Recently, a thoughtful student noted that, though reading opposing views on religion was difficult she found it beneficial. We all know people are inclined to embrace dogmatism—be it in politics, religion, morality, or otherwise. But it's refreshing to discover, as I do semester after semester, that many of us are capable and desirous of transcending small-minded dismissal of all things "other."
As I mentioned in my remarks to the student, one mark of intellectual development is the ability to distinguish between those whom we disagree with whose arguments are not at all reasonable, and those whom we disagree with whose arguments, though we think they are wrong, are intelligible and can be understood and engaged with at some basic level. This distinction allows for more than respectful dialogue; it allows us to better understand our own ideas and form mutually-respectful bonds with the proverbial "other." These are some of the gifts, I think, of a genuinely humanistic education.
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