• teaching tough topics

    Posted on April 2nd, 2012 kr No comments

    I’ve been reading some interesting marriage and family literature lately, and I figured I could post some out on the “blogosphere” (I’m getting cooler by the minute!) and if someone happened across it then maybe they would find it interesting as well.  I’ll probably try to tie in something about teaching methodologies or something else that might tie it in with the GEDI course.

    Let’s start with something that is very controversial among students even on this very (privledged, white, heterosexual, right on the bible-belt) campus. Same-sex marriage.  Apparently, there are a few main themes of dissent that come up when discussing legalization of same-sex marriage and it’s possible effects on heterosexual marriage. 1) If same-sex marriage is legalized marriage and parenthood will become separate, and marital parenthood will become a minority. 2) this will be disastrous for children because cohabitors break-up at such high rates.  3) allowing gay marriage is both a cause and the effect of the separation of parenthood and marriage and 4) if same-sex couples can marry, then heterosexual people will stop marrying. These are all laid out by Badgett (2011) in “Briefing Paper: Will Providing Marriage Rights to Same-Sex Couples Undermine Heterosexual Marriage? Evidence from Scandinavia.” 

    To summarize the findings, basically, none of these accusations are true.  They all have links to partial truths or real occurrences, such as a growing separation of parenthood and marriage, but these trends had been in place long before same-sex marriage was legalized in certain European countries.  Likewise, while it is true that cohabitors are more likely to end relationships, in Scandinavia children born to cohabitors spend about 87 percent of their childhood living with both parents (70% of whom marry within five years of the child’s birth) compared to American children who spend on average, 67% of their childhood living with both parents…and the explanations of twisted rationalization continue.  Now, tying this back to teaching and education.

    As a student in an area that deals with many different “touchy” or very personal subjects, it is not unusual to have to expose students to information that questions or undermines their own personal beliefs about morality or  what they consider”reality.”  How can student’s experience this jolt of being faced “facts” that do not coincide with what they consider to be the “truth,” whether it be based on religion, personal experience, or whatever.  Do we expose them to this knowledge then invite them to open discussion and share responses and understandings? How can we invite to students to engage but still hold them accountable to the prejudices they may hold? 

    I myself am still grappling with how to invite students to learn when I am aware that some of them will not want to engage in a productive discussion but instead, a moral battle.  No matter how a topic is prefaced with “this isn’t about personal beliefs or one person or one religion, this is about larger social processes of inequality and misunderstanding and power and discrimination, etc…” it seems someone always wants it to be a moral judgement.  For me, personally, being acutely familiar with the moral arguments that are likely to arise in this specific area makes it easier to deal with questions and comments; they loose the element of surprise.  I’ve also found that understanding the literature of the area inside and out is essential to explaining what is and what is not being argued. From there it’s easy to guide discussion to productive areas. Of course, this is not to say discussions of morals cannot be important, in fact they are incredibly important, but maintaining the balance in the discussion that may be personal, but also detached from the individual is more difficult that one might think…

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