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Resistance to Dialog?

November 6, 2009

My students have a paper due Saturday before midnight. The assignment is simple: write a dialog between two of the main characters/thinkers we’ve read so far this semester.This paper is causing anxiety in them and headaches for me.

There are a few more specifics to the assignment, but basically the paper prompt gives a lot of room for students to play with the texts, the ideas in the texts and the characters who inhabit those texts. I’ve given similar assignments before; but for some reason, students are really having a hard time this semester. Seemingly, they would much rather write on a theme in Gilgamesh than a dialog between him and Socrates.

I’m not sure what this means. There could be an inherent resistance to discourse longer than 140 characters. Or, a desire to keep ideas compartmentalized by historical context and never let them interact. Or again, it could simply be that I’m finding more anxiety because I’m teaching more classes.

Regardless, I’m very confused by this resistance to dialog.

  1. November 6, 2009 8:25 pm

    Just guessing here, but do you think they have anxiety about “being wrong”?

    • November 7, 2009 11:49 am

      That might be the case with some. Since day one we’ve been trying to live in the ambiguity of ancient and laconic texts, but everyone deals with the dissidence in their own ways.

  2. November 7, 2009 11:46 am

    I’m thinking, Jim, that it’s not the 140 character thing as much as students nowadays can’t even find the mental strength to get into the heads of ONE figure in a text, much less two. The added stress of getting these two figures to interact is tough to over-come.

    I’m wondering if this is Western individualism in it’s ultimate form. We’re so intent on being autonomous that we won’t even attempt to think like someone else as an exercise in empathy anymore. It’s so much easier to just sit in judgement.

    • November 7, 2009 11:51 am

      You know, you’re starting to sound like a bitter old man 😉

  3. November 8, 2009 2:31 pm

    to foster a dialogue between them, you would need to actually UNDERSTAND what they’re saying at the heart of things. to actually KNOW the people in question takes a lot of actual thought and thought is a scary thing for a college student. haha. either way, this assignment sounds awesome. what a random conversation that would be. i wonder what gilgamesh and socrates would have to say to each other…

    • November 9, 2009 10:35 am

      It’s not so much thought as reading skills. However, the assignment cuts to the hearts of the class goals: read difficult texts, identify arguments, make connections across disciplines and time, and write thoughtfully about it.

      One possible prompt I give for Gilgamesh and Socrates has them talking about life and death. Very fun.

  4. November 19, 2009 9:45 am

    I am curious how the writing turned out. Papers are in now, right? Did the students do the work necessary to plan such dialogues? As I read your post and comments, I thought, “How would I have approached that (besides an initial panic)?” I would have picked the two I liked the best (probably the easiest to understand), picked a topic both covered (like your suggested prompt of life and death), and made a page out for each covered in quotes, lists and notes on the topic. I probably would have highlighted what I saw as keys to each one’s stance on the topic, then it is time to let creative juices flow.

    Sounds like a great assignment. What level are your students?

    I like your blog, by the way. (Sigh) Miss the academic world, that I do. Best wishes.

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