Sunday, October 29, 2006

Rhetoric and Civics

I would like to think there is no need for a specific political agenda in any class. There is a difference between an agenda and asking students to think. The problem is that many instructors assume that to engage in "critical thinking" means to develop a particular (left-leaning) mindset. However, I view critical thinking as without a definite conclusion. My "logic" and another's logic might lead different places.

Yet, I also want students to care about issues. I don't subscribe to "everything is political" (a simplification of the word "political" to make it all-inclusive), but I do think that life is choices, making "everything is ethics" more accurate. Students should recognize their daily choices matter.

Choices are influenced by rhetoric. Persuasion from all sides affects our choices. This is what I want students to understand. I cannot tell them which sides are "right" or "wrong" -- the only thing I can suggest is that the people misusing rhetorical devices the most might be the least trustworthy. Unfortunately, I don't know that any political or social organization is "honest" by my standards, making me seem very cynical to students.

It's hard for students to realize that every political ad might be misleading and every "leader" is more interested in obtaining or retaining power than changing things for the better. (Some start with good intentions... but power is what it is.) Learning to think critically might not lead to the positive view of humanity.

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