23 August 2014

On Civility

Things that college should teach students:

  • That the world can become unrecognizable when viewed from inside someone else's experience.
  • That the things that make other people different from them  are not be the most important things about those people.
  • That opinions and attitudes they haven't yet encountered exist in the world.
  • That ideas they take for granted are not universally shared or understood.
  • That they know more than they think they do, but that not everything they know is accurate.
  • That the ideas they take for granted can prevent them from understanding ideas they haven't encountered yet.
  • That ideas they take for granted may look less appealing when they are articulated.
  • That they can change their minds.
  • That one's mind changes gradually, incompletely, and painfully.
  • That anger can have content, that you can learn from someone else's anger.
  • That legitimate, righteous anger exists.
  • That ideas get argued by people with different experiences of the world, which are relevant
  • That ideas get argued by people with different relationships to authority, power, and legitimacy, which are also relevant.
  • That ideas make a difference in the world and can be worth getting angry about.
  • That hurt feelings are a data point to take into account, but may or may not be relevant upon closer examination.
  • That they can get over hurt feelings.
  • That learning more about a contentious issue can lead to more questions and uncertainty rather than less.
  • That uncertainty and confusion are starting points for learning.
  • That if they haven't, at some point, found themselves struggling to put words to an idea that they feel strongly about but can't explain adequately, then they've missed an opportunity to learn.
  • That if they graduate without having felt, at some point in a class, unsettled, uncomfortable, misunderstood, confused, then they've missed an opportunity to learn.


  1. Excellent. I'm going to share this within my networks, maybe even add to the discussion section of my course websites.

  2. These are great, but I wonder how many higher ed faculty (or their disciplines) would endorse or practice this kind of pedagogy, given its reflective, discussion-based nature? So I'd add these two:

    --that reasoned, informed discussion with their peers, and the listening that it demands, can be the source of greatest learning;
    --that some problems are complex enough that they cannot be "resolved" but only "explored," to discover which responses are most acceptable to us.

  3. This very interesting blog post should perhaps be taken seriously by departments that recommend disciplinary action against faculty (particularly NTT faculty) who have the audacity to disagree with their peers over matters of departmental priorities. The typical ruse is to dig up (and even judiciously edit) email sent by the disliked person that appears to be "uncivil" and then forward it to the Dean's office. I think perhaps Wilcox may be familiar with this tactic. I am certain her husband is.

  4. I learned a lot from the discussion of the Salaita case. Mr. Salaita's outrageous comments and the people defending him make me angry, and I think my anger is also "legitimate, righteous anger". I could argue like a civilized person about the Salaita case, but I recently learned that civility is not required. So let me debate in the style that people like Ms. Wilcox are now defending:

    Look, motherfucker, I wish all the fucking leftist chickenshits like you disappeared!

  5. That's so cute, Anonymous. Now, all you need is the courage to stand behind your trolling with a real name and the credentials and talent to earn a hard to get job and I'll be happy to argue that you should not be fired for coming off as an asshole here.