Truth in Society

Thursday, Sept. 22, 1994

Prompt #11

Where are we going with this, anyway?

The Truth in Society section is currently carrying on an inquiry into six episodes of belief, on the way to understanding more about how people come to believe what they believe. Within the next couple of weeks the researchers in this section -- that's you and your colleagues -- will decide which three of these six episodes will be the foci of a deepening inquiry for the rest of the term.

The decision will be an important one. Important because we want the next two months to be exciting and inspiring.

On what basis will you make this important decision? Primarily, on the carefully crafted recommendations written by your Truth in Society section colleagues.

Obviously, then, it's essential that we all become as prepared as we can be for the process of formulating the recommendations. Specifically, what we think this requires is that you (and everybody else in the room) achieve a reasonably good grasp of "what happened" in all six episodes. You should have a pretty good sense of what the setting was, who the main players were, and how the action unfolded.

At this point, you probably do already have a reasonably coherent picture of several of the episodes. But it's almost certain your understanding of at least one or two of them is still rather scanty. (Because you didn't have a chance to dip as deeply into some of the boxes as others, or because you tended to shy away from certain episodes, or because by the luck of the draw you worked with questions and video reflections from some but not other episodes.) We want everybody to have a fairly clear picture of all six.

The next stage we've planned with the goal of making your familiarity with the episodes less uneven. Here's the strategy that should help.

Remain in the group of six or seven in which you worked this morning on the video reflections. Your task is to work together to draft, for the rest of the class, a "descriptive overview" of your episode. You'll have at your disposal the box containing all the material that has been gathered and generated so far: the "appetizers" with the attached yellow comment sheets, the reports from Tuesday's library investigation, the video reflections, and your scribe's record of this mornings discussion of those reflections.

Keep clearly in mind the intended purpose of the overviews. When we say that we all need a "coherent picture of what happened" we mean that the story you tell must be assembled in a way that will help your colleagues from the other five groups "round out" their understanding. Refrain as much as you can from explaining, interpreting, theorizing and giving opinions. Stick as closely as possible to describing the actual events, people and situations, and doing this in the form of a narrative or story that has a logical structure to it.

How to get started? One way would be to do a "round," in which each individual tries her best to state what overall sense she has been able to make of the episode. Then you could put all your heads together and sketch an outline, identifying the main points that need to be covered, and organizing these points in a logical way. (You might use a sheet of flip chart paper for this.)

What we think will happen at this point is that as a group you will become painfully aware of certain "missing pieces": discrepancies, aspects of the story about which everyone is still fuzzy, names and dates missing, etc. Some of these problems will be solved quickly and easily, by checking through the stuff in your box. But it's almost certain there will be other problems that will send you back to the library.

Take the time you need to get organized. Talk about ways to parcel out the work that are efficient and fair. If you all go your separate ways for a while, make sure you arranged a specific time and place for your group to rendezvous to see how things are progressing. Make sure everybody knows about it.

Do as much as you can before today's closing meeting, which is scheduled for 4:30. It is conceivable that your group will have a complete first draft of a descriptive overview by then. It's more likely that you'll still be in the middle of putting one together. In any event, you should have a photocopy-able version (preferably a wordprocessed version; and if you do a wordprocessed version, save the file on disk) ready for our opening meeting at 8:30 Tuesday morning. That way copies can be made for everyone, and we can spend most of that day reading each other's descriptive overviews, posing questions and talking about what else is needed to make them as coherent and tightly organized as necessary.

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