Is there really a dark side?

Here is your weekly dose of Star Wars related content for a blog.

It hurts my pride to agree with Langer so much on mindful learning ideas, because I despise her examples so much. I can get around her wad of gum example by saying it depends on who you ask and how they determine what a wads of is. It is to the point that facts are context dependent. One of my favorite subjects as a kid was history, and I was an eager pupil. Many years later, I started reading different perspectives on the history of the United States. It makes me sad to realize how distorted the narrative that I learned was, and probably still is. I know full well that I believed what I read was fact. It was in the textbook, it was on the worksheets, I wrote reports on it, and it was on the tests. I always got those answers right, always. I appreciate having read other perspectives of U.S. history, as it has reengaged me in a topic that I once loved. For me personally, it has helped me realize that other perspectives need to be listened to.

With that said though, I have difficulty in listening to everyone’s perspective. The class I was a TA for in the fall involved a lot of reading papers and having discussions in class. We would be sailing along smoothly then, inevitably, one particular student would say something that could have only made sense to him. We could ask follow-up questions, but I don’t think they helped us better understand where he was coming from. For me, my internal reaction was always why would you say that, and what are we supposed to do with this nonsense now? It was very difficult to ever offer any validity to the things he said, but we couldn’t ignore him. He was making an effort to be part of the conversation, and you can’t be mad at him for trying. We never really figured out what to do in responding to him. We waited out the semester, and were done with it.

13 Replies to “Is there really a dark side?”

  1. Interesting post because I think it highlights one of the difficulties with open discussion in class and one of those feelings and experiences we’ve all had as teachers and students. That moment where someone makes a comment and you’re stuck thinking, “what in the world do I do with that?” I’ve definitely been there and you kind of nod and thank them for the input and then try to move on to something else. That is a tricky situation because you want to make sure everyone knows their opinions are valid, but you want to make sure the class doesn’t go off the rails. There isn’t really an ideal solution, I think. Sometimes you are just going to have someone like that in class and you just have to hope they have something in their comments that you can pick out to say, “that’s a good point,” and then you can move on. I have been surprised at times how you can have a student like that routinely make crazy comments, but right when you are about to just dismiss their comments out of hands, they say something that honestly hits you right between the eyes and makes you rethink things and rethink a perspective you’ve always had. Sometimes it’s beneficial to have someone just throwing stuff out there because you have a hard time thinking of things from new perspectives if none are presented. Haha, and sometimes the comments are just bad and you wait out the semester. In the mean time, your comment made me think of this. It’s about questions and not comments but I thought the principle was similar.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLt1HoAPniM

  2. Thanks for the post. As you well-mentioned and it happened to me a lot too in many classes there is someone who says / comments on something really off to the extend that we get bored or start to ask ourselves who are these people, or are they in the right place. But regardless, and in my experience, it is worth it to listen to these crazy ideas at least for once since it could shed light upon those darker sides that were there but unnoticed.

  3. Your history example is great! History is written by the winners, as they say. And you are right – the problem is that we are taught that the winner’s perspective is fact. How ridiculous. Have you ever been in an argument with a sibling and your parents choose to listen to him/her/them instead of you? How frustrating would it be if your side of the story was never heard or acknowledged. I agree, though, that sometimes it is very challenging to listen to what others have to say, particularly if what they say is not making sense to you or you disagree strongly.

  4. Yes, I had the same thoughts during the readings. I also referred to many of the lessons as a younger student, history included, as generally known facts. It wasn’t until much later that I realized there were altering perspectives. I believe this is a large disservice to young learners and that debate and acknowledgements of different viewpoints within any subject matter is essential.

  5. I really appreciated your example of learning about history as facts and then later realizing that history is told from a perspective and that it is important to hear a variety of perspectives. I am curious to hear more about your experience TAing the class where it was difficult to listen to the one student’s perspective. I am glad that you all asked questions to better understand that student’s perspective. I wonder what else we can do when we are in a similar situation. Are there other ways that we can engage in that dialogue?

  6. I like the way you developed your argue! I too sometimes ask myself ” is this person really lives on earth? how did he/she come to such crazy idea?” but now that I try to be more understanding , I ask myself what if this person only had the chance/time/interest/resources to learn the school history books? We cannot see the world purely due to our preconditioned minds which in many cases are filled with lies
    and prejudices injected by governments/media/or even our education systems!

  7. I can relate to you a lot in that when I hear someone say something crazy that only they could believe or think, I wonder how could you say that or where is that coming from. Coming from a STEM background into the field of higher education has made me become more open to others’ ideas, as most of the people I used to work with at least thought relatively the same. But, now I have had to work at making sure I am hearing and understanding what they are saying and their point of view as much as possible.

  8. That’s a really intersting point you brought up about the student. When you hear another viewpoint that has been researched and fleshed out, it makes you rethink your own. It’s much harder when the ideas seem like they were formed on a more shallow foundation. I think asking the student follow up questions was a good way to go about trying to understand where they were coming from and helping them think more deeply about it. I don’t know if there is a right approach to dealing with continuous discussions where the person presents poorly thought out viewpoints, but I think your willingness to include them in the conversations is commendable.

  9. You bring up a great point that obviously many of us have dealt with or will deal with in the future. I get a lot of these cringe-worthy moments in my HD classes where people just completely miss the mark on the current trends for perspectives in the fields. I sometimes struggle to remind myself that they have those opinions for a reason- the way they were raised in the environment they always knew. This is a whole new world for many students. That is why we are there- to give those voices their time. Obviously this is different in HD than in STEM fields, but I have had success in putting it onto the other students. I am very purposeful about crafting a safe and courageous environment in which students can talk with one another. So, when a student says something off the wall that I don’t have the energy to settle my personal reaction to, I ask the class- “What do you all think about what your peer has said about this? What other sides are there to this perspective?” This also helps me avoid getting myself into the trap of “Liberal educator” which pushes many students away and allows them to discount my translation of the research. Peer influence can be a powerful tool. But, that can also go to the dark side too! It’s just one tool to have in your toolbox.

  10. You bring up a great point that obviously many of us have dealt with or will deal with in the future. I get a lot of these cringe-worthy moments in my HD classes where people just completely miss the mark on the current trends for perspectives in the fields. I sometimes struggle to remind myself that they have those opinions for a reason- the way they were raised in the environment they always knew. This is a whole new world for many students. That is why we are there- to give those voices their time. Obviously this is different in HD than in STEM fields, but I have had success in putting it onto the other students. I am very purposeful about crafting a safe and courageous environment in which students can talk with one another. So, when a student says something off the wall that I don’t have the energy to settle my personal reaction to, I ask the class- “What do you all think about what your peer has said about this? What other sides are there to this perspective?” This also helps me avoid getting myself into the trap of “Liberal educator” which pushes many students away and allows them to discount my translation of the research. Peer influence can be a powerful tool. But, that can also go to the dark side too! It’s just one tool to have in your toolbox.

    P.S. I was literally just watching this movie yesterday. Great minds.

    1. I think you’re right, Mary, and I admire this approach. We have to be willing to deal with the messiness of real-life people and their opinions if we want to get anywhere. And I really appreciate your commitment to cultivating a learning environment that is both courageous and safe.

  11. Clearly a lot of people find your points relatable! I’m from Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, so we learned history from the side of Yankees (the winners). Needless to say, I grew up believing the South started the Civil War solely over slavery, Robert E. Lee was a racist and a traitor, and that the present-day Southerners need to stop being sore over losing. I started dating someone from North Carolina, who is very passionate about Civil War history and had ancestors who died in battle, and further, I moved to Virginia. After being involved in discussions about the same subjects, I am so deeply regretful that I grew up this way, and that the vast majority of people in my home state were taught these one-sided things. Though I won’t go into specifics, it is now clear to me that the issues are so much more complex than that. Clearly this is the plight of education as well.

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