Thursday, May 07, 2009

Michael Benton: Teaching Reflection

Teaching Reflection

I am amazed at the dual tensions that are rippling through our young intellectuals. While many are in search of profits, or chasing temporary fame/notoriety, a smaller, but increasing minority, are becoming very vocal and politically active, trying to effect change…

You can’t rush at them like a middle linebacker, hitting them with reality and all its dirty secrets, rather you have to engage in the dialogic co-creation/exploration of the world, in which the student is introduced to critical tools that allow them to access multiple narratives of understanding/meaning. Once they recognize that the “one” truth they have been indoctrinated into all their lives is so exclusionary of so many other possibilities then the world opens up before their eyes. Of course, this is a fragile process, it can be destabilizing and threatening, so slow, careful steps—progress towards meta-awareness, not pell mell destruction of beliefs.

Last week I had a young, bright, student tell me how she was a big fan of Ayn Rand and desired to write her paper on the benefits of free-market capitalism and individualistic competition. I said great, write me a proposal—which she did, the proposal was amazing (written over a week), a true document of inner turmoil caused by the accessing of different perspectives on an issue that was represented as an unquestioned truth. Like many intellectuals she was struggling to reconcile her lifelong indoctrination into a worldview that celebrated unfettered capitalism as the supreme beneficial societal force and her desire that we all have the basic necessities of life. A major, recent influence was a “social services” course that introduced her to different realities and perspectives about the world. In this course she began to engage these perspectives, and in doing so her paper proposal to write on Ayn Rand changed into a critique of the values that she defended at the beginning of the project. In the proposal’s original narrative she kept coming up against a truism that had been repeated to her throughout her upbringing—“unfettered free-market capitalism is the superior social system because the freedom of individualistic competition is the most beneficial for everyone”—bam! She continuously ran into this paradoxical wall, bam! bam! four times in her proposal, bam! … just yesterday she told me she had always believed, somehow, that it was true and that no one had encouraged her to think otherwise, to consider those that lose the competition, or, those that are excluded from ever joining the race…

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