Monday, December 02, 2013

Blog 11: Hostility

A couple of different sessions come to mind when I think of how, if it all, hostility has played a role in any of my experiences. In both cases, there was no "open" hostility--it all remained pretty well internalized. As such, it may more accurately be described in terms of "tension."

The first involved a 1010 student who came in with a paper on Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. The essay was essentially the work of a student who had not read a page of the book, who was reduced to regurgitating bits and fragments of summaries he had read online. (I feel confident about this due to the complete absence of understanding he demonstrated when I pressed him about some of the assumptions Friedman (and he, by the transitive property of not contesting anything on which a book is based because you are writing an essay on a book that you didn't read) imported into their bumper-sticker economic platitudes.)

I tried to facilitate him in some discussion about the empirical data that now eviscerates Friedman's reductionist claims about the celebratory potentials of globalization. I tried to get him to, at minimum, think about the words that he had rearranged from wikipedia and other sites about Friedman's book. Finally, he said, "I just really want to finish this thing, you know?"

This was near the beginning of the semester and I had not yet learned, when necessary, to completely remove myself emotionally (and probably socially) from the content in the papers I was reading. Because of this, I remember feeling an sort of visceral sort of pain as I focused on surface-level grammar mistakes operating between completely unsubstantiated claims about the nature of the world economy, which are contradicted by even some the most detestable bourgeois economists in recent years.

I struggled through the paper. Life moved on. The next time a tension-inducing paper came to me, however, was even worse. A young girl came in with a speech about abortion. "Oh boy," I thought, "Here we go." While I am unambiguously on the side of women's rights, I am actually sympathetic to some of the more nuanced perspectives opposing abortion (e.g. concerning "personal opposition, but policy support," for instance, as Jimmy Carter expresses).

The student's speech, however, had little-to-no relation to any semblance of nuance or subtlety (and the student would have none of my "liberal" bias). Right off the bat, the student referred to her opponents as "murders," "anti-lifers," and the like. Before even closing out the first paragraph, I tried to explain to her the nature of these arguments. "This is a really serious topic," I said, "I think many--even those who agree with you--will find these characterizations of pro-choice advocates unhelpful at best." I went on, "These don't really pertain directly to the subject itself--these are just assaults on people, not even specific people, but on general, holding the opposing perspective."

The session didn't last much longer--and I honestly did not editorialize her opinion in the least bit. I merely suggested she amend her characterizations of the opposing side. "K thanks, any other suggestions about the other stuff in the speech?" I remember her saying.


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