Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Never again...

I may be bright, even smart -- but sometimes I just don't learn.

I know better than to allow students to write about abortion.

I've learned this lesson before -- but, it seems that I forgot.

I've read four papers about abortion so far -- one was interesting in the good way... others were "different" -- in the way BNstate residents use "different" to mean icky, sucky or otherwise problematic.

The worst, so far ( I have 5 more to go) translated 'women have a right to choose what to do with their bodies' to mean "woman does not have control over her body until after a male is finished with it, and she has a right when she gets pregnant." -- WTF??????????????????????

5 more will earn me a 30 minute break with the Queen.


Bardiac said...


I make my students write about something that involves a real question; if they already think they know the answer, then it's not a real question. That clarification helps a LOT, about abortion, gun control, the death penalty, all sorts of things they think they have absolute truth knowledge of without always working totally through the issues.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I used to do that when the assignment was a 'pro/con/your position' kind of paper. This is supposed to be a persuasive essay on an ethical problem. I make it pretty clear that the reason any of their topics IS an ethical problem is because reasonable people disagree on it.

So far the problem rests with the folks who feel driven to write about abortion -- they are compelled to spew the anti-abortion propaganda and it gets pretty old.

lelangir said...

Hmm the first thing that some of my professors do is make freshman know their opinion doesn't matter (not literally, you know) and that their opinion alone doesn't make for good essay writing. Almost all of my essays these four semesters have been of the "read this complicated literature and develop an argument based on what they say" type (except for piddly little research papers).

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

It seems to me that there's a huge difference between an unfounded opinion and a persuasive, researched essay that supports your position on an issue.

What I expect from their final papers is the latter... what I'm seeing a lot of is the former.

I wrote the assignment because I want them to be able to synthesize information and analyze arguments they read concerning things that are happening in the world around them. I'm not so sure I've succeeded.

julie said...

I see this kind of stuff all the time, and I've learned to be super explicit about what "opinion" means: the definition in the wider culture is *personal* opinion, not reasoned opinion, and so I try to get students to understand the distinction between matters of taste/faith/feeling and *claims*. I also bring in the other end -- facts (ahem!).

Presenting them with a spectrum helps: "Julie is tall" is a claim; "Julie is 5'7"" is a fact; "I agree that Julie is tall" or "I like that Julie is tall" is a personal opinion.

Reasoned opinion is really, really rare out in the world -- and even in the composition classroom where it should be the centerpiece of our pedagogy, if you ask me (sorry colleagues who teach story writing instead of composition!).

So I'm never surprised that students don't know how to recognize the difference between personal opinion and reasoned opinion, much less be able to do it. Most talking heads in our culture aren't able to do it.

Hmmm, I'm grouchy this morning!

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I've now read 30 of the 36 drafts I collected on Monday night.

A few of the drafts make decent arguments, other drafts have decent research. Only one or two have both.

This shouldn't be too difficult, as they're writing about topics we've discussed in class. They have textbooks full of reasoned arguments on their topics.. of course, I doubt they've read them... sigh.