On Agreeing With Things I Teach

Dean Dad's (Do we still call him that?) recent post about Mitch Daniels' comments regarding Howard Zinn directly relate to a lot of what I try to teach my composition level students about argumentation and effective rhetoric in their papers. Whether you agree with a theorist or critic or pundit is besides the point. Dean Dad explains this further:

Whether the book in question is by Howard Zinn or George Will isn’t the point.  Studying a text does not imply agreeing with it, whatever “agreeing” means.  In fact, learning to keep a critical distance on a text is one of the most important skills that higher education can impart.  (I’m using “critical” here in the academic sense, meaning “evaluative,” rather than in the popular sense, meaning “bashing.”  Any idiot can bash.  But a serious evaluation requires actual thought.)  Reading texts that take different points of view can force a student to get beyond simply repeating what they’ve read, or falling back on whatever cliches are handy.

One of the biggest things I try to teach students is that citing or using a text in their papers does not mean they have to "agree" with it. I teach plenty of essays I frankly find objectionable whether it is Charles Krauthammer or John Ruskin. However, these essays are great fodder for class discussion and paper writing. Students learn to look at differing points of view than their own and see the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. This is an extremely important critical thinking skill to learn.

Of course, members of the Political Class like Daniels do not want that. They want you to buy into mainstream media memes about Team Blue and Team Red. Zinn and Will are good examples of this. As we have seen during the PRISM/NSA scandal, pundits and politicians and their sycophants express great disgust at citizens who dare to cite or link to people who share a common view, but they otherwise might find objectionable. This sort of deep critical thinking is detrimental to their power structure and ability to keep us peasants fighting amongst ourselves over the bread and circus they toss us.