"If you at least think about the topics for one class, then you can take a coffee break"Turns out that I offer myself lousy deals, and that I am also a horrible negotiator. Thus, this Panjandrum is unable to break the impasse.
"You can play bridge for thirty minutes if you at least log into the course management system" ...
But, it is not that I am always taking coffee breaks (yes, I am) or that I am forever playing bridge (yes, I am.) My mind is always thinking about classes and the topics and how I might be able to better engage with students. This constant thinking, even if subconscious, then attracts me to reading articles that are not explicitly about any of the courses that I teach, but contribute a lot to my pedantic pontificating.
One of those articles is about the questions we share, and how to go about engaging with the big and hard questions:
A big part of the problem with public discourse, contends Feigelson, is that we often begin by asking hard questions before we have explored big questions. A “hard question,” he says, is one that requires special knowledge to answer — so only some people feel they can answer it — and it bears fruit only if the participants in the discussion already share a degree of trust or rapport.By now, like my students, perhaps you have already drifted off and are thinking about a coffee break. I don't blame you. Am able to type this only because I had a tall mug of coffee before I started blogging this piece. Tell you what, here is a deal for you: you take that coffee break, and then return to reading this. Sounds good?
A “big question,” by contrast, is one that matters to everyone and that everyone can answer. Big questions have the potential to tap people’s sense of curiosity and to draw out wisdom from the heart.
Ah, you are back. Good.
So, hard questions versus big questions. Examples of big questions, please?
Examples include: For whom are we responsible? What do we choose to ignore? Where do you feel at home? How does technology change us? When do you conform? When do you take a stand?Hey, this is what most of my pedantic pontificating is all about. I often remind students that the courses I teach, and the courses they take from others, will help them articulate their own answers to some of the big questions of the day. It is about them, their own selves, I tell students.
So, examples of hard questions then?
“If you start a student discussion with a hard question, like ‘How can we bring peace to the Middle East?,’” Feigelson says, “the two students who think they know the most are going to debate and protest, while everyone else watches and thinks they have nothing to contribute. It doesn’t build trust or capacity for solving problems."Aha!
a big question can open a space in which each individual can contribute, speaking from experience, without feeling pressured to win a debate or demonstrate loyalty to a position. Big questions can help build the trust that’s necessary to grapple effectively with hard questions. For instance, one way to build toward a discussion of campus sexual assault is to frame a conversation around the question: “When have you been a witness?”Exactly! That empathy will certainly make students view the world very differently and begin to have a lot more realistic conversation with others on issues. And, boy do we have issues all around--those hard questions.
“When we start with a big question, we’re building empathy among the students,” says Sheila Katz, vice president for social entrepreneurship at Hillel International, who was the director of Ask Big Questions for four years. “The hope is that the students will look at the world differently, in a way that allows them to receive each person as they are, and engage in conversation, instead of just argument, debate or even violence.”
So, how do we then begin to have those conversations? Certainly not the television-style of yelling matches.
There is, of course, no right way to structure a conversation. But some principles are elaborated in the group’s conversation guides (which have been downloaded 9,000 times).Sounds good, except this parenthetical note on downloaded 9,000 times. Seriously? They think a count of 9,000 downloads is newsworthy? Why include that in the reporting? Oh, wait, is that a hard question to ask?
We live in a world where we need to engage in critical conversations if we really want to make this a better place. The hard questions of climate change and Middle East and Ebola and malnourishment and ... require us to have sincere, reasoned, conversations in which we listen to each other. Instead, we are increasingly tending to avoid discussing those hard questions.
In the LA Times, this op-ed notes how social media seem to even end friendships when one begins to go after a "hard question" on Israel and Gaza:
I noticed my friend had written "OMG!!" under my post. And then she was gone.The television-style yelling and cutting one off has now become a part of our virtual world, too, apparently.
With a couple of cool, obliterating keystrokes and no questions asked (or at least posted), she'd apparently banished me from her online world. Years of friendship ended with a wordless, virtual severing.
That's the way things work in social media.
Perhaps it's time to accept that Facebook is a lousy medium for political debate. People seem to be much more interested in making statements rather than asking questions or seeking out diverse opinions. As much as we might like to think we enjoy pluralistic feeds with multiple views, our "friends" tend to be those with whom we agree. The rest, we shed. A recent study from the University of Colorado Denver found that "polarizing posts" are one of the most frequently cited reasons for unfriending someone on Facebook.Time for a coffee break and thirty minutes of bridge!