Thursday, Sept. 29, 1994
Make sure that you pick up a copy of each of the six "descriptive overviews" that we worked so hard to produce this week.
Between now and Tuesday, take time to carefully read each one. Prepare a statement that you can bring to class on Tuesday in which you identify the two episodes that you'd find easiest to recommend. Just telling us that these episodes you found "interesting" or "relevant" will not be very useful. Probe your preferences, elaborating the reasons or grounds for your choices. Write at least a couple of pages on each recommended episode.
Notice in the previous paragraph, we used the phrase "elaborating the reasons or grounds for your choices," rather than "telling the reasons" or "giving the reasons." Elaborating means spelling out in considerable detail, and that's part of what we are trying to get at. But the other part is that "telling" or "giving" implies that you yourself are already fully aware of those reasons, and that the task is simply one of communicating them to the rest of us. Indeed, that may be the case. However, don't be surprised if you discover that it is not like this, and that you really don't know all that much about why some episodes are more appealing than other. In elaborating your reasons, then, you are in a sense establishing for yourself what they are. This is necessary if you want to be very effective in influencing someone else.
When we try to explain -- first to ourselves and then to others -- why we believe or feel or act as we do, we should not be alarmed if our thinking changes in the process. We can even learn from the discomfort we may feel, reading this as a sign that our understanding of ourselves and our world is deepening. Being able to elaborate the reasons for our choices is surely what we strive for when we pursue a liberal education.
As we move towards decisions about which three episodes to continue working on,, we will want to take into account not only the arguments for and against particular ones, but the benefits and drawbacks of various combinations. Will we want to pick episodes that are all similar in some respects, so that links and connections will be easy to make? (Similar in what ways?) Or will we want to maximize the variety, in terms of the socio-historical contexts involved? Perhaps even more important: what might make an espisode a good one? Should it be one that we have strong feelings about to start with, or one that offers lots of opportunities to understand different kinds of beliefs? One that gives us lots of clear examples of belief in conflict and change? One that will make it possible for us to learn more about the people who do the believing? One that will make it possible for us to find out about the people and beliefs around the people doing the believing? These are matters to think, write and talk about.
So what we need for Tuesday is not simply a statement of your preferences or opinions, but an elaboration of your reasons. When we get together, it will be very interesting to see the various way in which the individuals in the room reason. One important lesson that may emerge is that there can be many different, even conflicting reasons, any of which might qualify as "good."
One more thing: don't forget to bring your reflection on the "When Rights Collide" conference with you Tuesday morning as well.