Goals of Course Discussion and Debate
Ideological harmony is not a goal of the class. We are not a congregation or a political party. We are students exploring and discussing controversial issues. The professor will enforce civility, but reaching an undisputed consensus is not an aim of the class. The professor will try to elicit an agreement as to the main points of a document to clarify material fair to place on examinations. However, even on examinations, consensus is not important. Instead, well-informed and well-argued answers to examination questions are the most significant determinants of a good grade, not the reflection of a popular point of view or the viewpoint of the professor.
Your contribution is important.
If in the course of discussion you feel that someone “shoots down” your ideas, do not take it personally. Listen to what that person says with an open mind. If you agree with that person, reformulate your ideas. If you are not sure what you think about the issue, think about it more and try to clarify your position. If you disagree with the other person’s position, think about how you can better articulate and defend your position in the future.
Three interrelated goals of the class are:
Some realities of class discussion:
Although the professor will enforce a certain degree of civility (i.e. no personal attacks), discussions of controversial issues are often a power struggle of ideas. You may at times feel frustrated, lost, elated or angered by the course of class discussion. This is natural. Discussions of the type encouraged in this class are unpredictable and may not go the way you want. Nevertheless, the process of participating in a discussion or debate is meant to be useful and constructive. It propels us to THINK, which is our most important goal.
Learning to think does not necessarily mean agreeing with your professor or your classmates. You are encouraged to question authority and the majority. You will not be penalized for disagreeing with your professor during any class discussion of a document. In the same light, do not be put off if the professor makes clear that he disagrees with you.
Memorization and knowledge are important tools that will enhance your argumentation, but they are not the type of THINKING that the course readings, discussions and debates are designed to promote.
Discussions and debates in this class do not have winners or losers, and your professor will never view any of the active participants as winners or losers. The only possible losers are the non-active participants who have something to say but are too timid to say it. Not all non-talkative students are timid, and sometimes they simply do not have anything they particularly wish to contribute. This is fine. But if you have something to say, you should try to say it.
Not all students will be able to voice what they want when they want to say it. This is the nature of class discussions and debates, and, admittedly, it can be frustrating. The professor will try to be as fair as possible in allowing different students to participate. For the active students, this might mean the professor not allowing you to speak when you want. For the less active students, this may mean the professor calling on you. All students can assist the professor in this delicate and complex process by raising your hand when you have something to say.