Thursday, February 1, 2007

On the Nature of Discourse in Blog World

I like to read other blogs.

In the evenings, on days when I am free to do so, I like to sit down with a cup of tea (Licorice Spice, Hot, with Honey), and check out the homeschooling world of blogs. I really enjoy peeking into another person's world to see how they do what they do and to read about how they live their lives. I particularly enjoy reading blogs written by people from different walks of life who have different experiences than I could ever have and who have wisdom to offer that I would not experience otherwise.

Last night I checked in on a blog I have reading once or twice a week. It is written by a single, gay homeschooling mom who also runs a farm and lectures at a university. (I have not yet learned what she lectures about--I think it may have to do with animal husbandry). Anyway, I "tuned in" last night to see what she was thinking about lately. She had been discussing some controversial issues in her last few posts and she had posted a link to the blog of someone who had flamed her. I went to that link to see what that person had said. That person had well and truly flamed her--using generalities and personal attack in a way that has become sadly familiar to me on message boards and in certain parts of the blog world. As a consequence of this flaming, this woman wrote last night that she may be taking a break from the blog world for a little while. I will be sorry if she does because I was learning a lot from her. I had posted several comments to previous posts, and although I do not totally agree with her position, I hope I came across as someone who respects her arguments.

All of this has lead me to consider the nature of discourse in blog world. Actually, I've been thinking about the nature of controversial discourse in our culture in general. In 1992, while I was working in the Long Term Ecological Research Center's UNM campus lab, I was also exposed for the first time to right-wing talk radio. Some of the lab techs liked to listen to Rush Limbaugh--it seemed to be a sort of prurient interest on their part, as they had political views that were diametrically opposed to Rush Limbaugh's diatribe. I listened to several shows and was not impressed with what I heard. It was not that I disagreed with Rush on some issues, although I did, so much as that I was concerned about the way he handles disagreement. His response to any disagreement with his views amounted to blustering and name-calling. I rarely heard an argument that led to anyone actually thinking about an issue, and never did I hear an exchange that led to mutual respect at the end. At the time, I bought myself a walkman tape player to use when it was my turn to acid-wash glassware, and I ignored the issue.

Now, though, as I watch with dismay how the culture wars have played out, and how entrenched our political parties are in ideology and how unable our leaders are to cross the aisle and actually get something done about important issues, I wonder about the Rush Limbaugh effect. At present, on those occasions when I tune into our local talk-radio station (usually when I am driving and need to hear the traffic report), I have heard a number of different talk hosts who sound much the same as Limbaugh. None of them appear to be interested in real discourse on an issue nor are they interested in solutions. Rather they appear to be interested only in vilifying those they disagree with. They speak in generalities, insist loudly upon their own rightness in the face of contrary evidence, and assault the character of anyone who disagrees. There is no discourse in which citizens may examine issues and consider them in order to vote. Ideology triumphs over reason. Further, those who follow such ideologues most closely tend to suspend reason in order to be honored as "dittoheads" on the air.

A problem I see with this is that it has become acceptable in other realms--on the internet, on TV and even face-to-face. It has replaced the discourse that is vital to the health of the republic with something else. It has become acceptable to say to someone: "Since you are a Democrat/Republican/Gay/Christian/Jew/(fill in the blank), I don't have to listen to what you have to say and I already know what your position is on any issue and it must be wrong.

I think one reason for this state of affairs is that, with some exceptions, our schools have not taught two generations (now going on three!) the art of constructing a logical argument nor the art of identifying logical fallacies. To make it even worse, schools have not taught the majority of students the difference between the right to express an opinion and the need to demostrate the veracity of the opinion. (When I taught science, I had students insist that because they had the "right to an opinion" that meant that we all must accept that the opinion is right. It almost seemed as if they had no sense of reality outside themselves).

In any case, I think that as homeschoolers, we have a responsibility to learn the art of constructing a logical argument and to teach it to our children. We need to model and teach respect for others in how we listen and respond to them. And we need to make our portion of the blog world a place where many different people have a voice and receive a respectful hearing. One can disagree--respectfully. We could contribute greatly to the quality of discourse in this nation, and thereby to the strength of our United States (remember: Out of many, one), if we model respectful discourse among ourselves, and teach it to our children.

Now, for something completely different!
Today, N. and I read about the Greek Olympics and about the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae. N. was fascinated with the story of the run of Phaedippides for reinforcements at the battle of Marathon. He made a picture of the runners and the Olympic torch. We put it on our timeline. While he was making the picture he keep saying: "Phaedippides, Phaedippides!" I think he really liked how the word rolled off his tongue and how it sounded to his ear. He may forget much about history, but I bet he does not forget about Marathon and Phaedippides!
N. also liked the poem that cqn be found on the stele at Thermopylae. He has repeated:
"Stranger, go tell the Spartans..." many times today. This is the fun part of teaching--when something we talk about really captures a student's imagination!


Frankie said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog.

I have read all your entries and enjoyed them.

My son is also twice exceptional. We had him tested at the GDC in Denver. He was also diagnosed with auditory processing disorder. While my son did have some sensory issues (mostly gone now) the GDC did not feel that he needed to be tested for Asperger's.

I (we) are not really public school bashers. My son had two fantastic teachers, one good and one I won't mention. His teachers worked very hard for him and went out of their way to "help" him. However, pulling him was the best thing we ever did. His self-confidence has soared. He's learning. Happily.

He still hates math, though.

Anyway, it was very refreshing to find your blog as we have many similarities.

Amie said...

What a great post!

And your son is a terrific artist :D

Megan Bayliss said...

Oh please, please, come and visit and come talk to my students. The essence of your post is what I teach. In terms of true discourse, my students need to hear it from other people as well, not just me. Making an informed decision relies upon having many facets to ponder upon, both supporting and alternative views.

My professional life maintains that I am often on the far left side of urban thought and myth...and always on the wrong side of hate radio personalities!!!

In Australia, it is compulsory to vote. Shooting and Fishing enthusiasts have veiled threat stickers that say, "I fish/shoot and I vote." Many years ago, frustrated by a seemingly community inability to think through the social and fiscal issues affecting our country, we had some stickers made up to distribute to our friends: "I think and I vote."

FANTASTIC blog, thank you Gadfly. And....speaking of Gadfly, I have recently used your term (I had not heard it before), in our wedding invitations, to describe the man I am about to marry. It fits beautifully.

N is doing so well with his Ancient Greek learning. He looks like he's artistic too, yes? Boy was thrilled that one of his worksheets was being adapted for "N". It appeared to give Boy a sense of pride and a greater acceptance of the non-isolation of home schooling.

Take care Elisheva, I may not be on-line for the next few days: wedding prep and starting a new branch of our business has me over the top busy. My thoughts, however, are with you.

Sara said...

I grew up in Atlanta, and there was a specialty running-shoe store there called "Phaedippides." It is indeed a lovely word, and I sure enjoyed learning the history of it!
(Just goes to show that a "teaching moment" can be inspired by a store!)