Dialogue. Creative tension. Depolarization. Reconciliation, or respectful disagreement. Reality check. Out of the ghetto, the camp, the faction, the party. That’s what I like to be involved in. Maybe it goes back to the arguments I witnessed in my home, and my desire to see both sides, dampen the fuses, yes, but not underestimate the importance value of differentiated views, for getting at the truth of the day or eternity.
Then I went to university–oh joy! the marketplace of ideas! And I had the advantage of living on a small, intimate campus specializing in foundations in classical Western literature and journalism, with a rich extracurricular arts community, and walking over to the big research university campus for my classes in the science department. I found smart people who followed Jesus, who were willing to touch the hot potatoes of the faith, and help students face the challenges of being a young scholar moving into post modernism. I got my Bachelor of Science, but my richest learning was over the dining hall table, across the library comfy chairs or traipsing around downtown looking for donairs after the pubs closed. I had different circles of friends–dorm mates, classmates, dining buddies, Christian fellowship friends, housemates, and those with whom I would serendipitously discover a common love for discussion and debate at some party or other. Only people I seem to have missed getting to know a bit were those there to get the degree and get out. I think some of my Christian friends hung around me partly for the sense of being on the edge as far as what kind of conversations and characters they might encounter.
I loved the chance to listen to smarter and more educated people–grad students, law students, teacher assistants, speakers, and challenge my peers with questions that might help us get at deeper truths, principles, and more questions. I wanted to know why people thought the way they did, why I thought the way I did, and I had a fundamental trust in the power of reason and that there were underlying truths of human existence, derived from physical and metaphysical truths we could glimpse at least through a mirror darkly. Some of the time I came with a point to prove, I admit–but why not? I could admit that too. “Sure I’m hoping to convert you; aren’t you hoping to convert me?” Simplistic, but some truth to it.
The only person I argued with in my life that really bugged me was Omar who refused to have any view at all. “That’s interesting,” he said. “Whatever works for you” and so on. I couldn’t get him to heat up and share any preference, any passion, any bias at all. Nice guy, yet infuriating. It was a new experience for me, and one I have revisited in an attempt to understand my own way of thinking. I see he was strongly standing on a certain principle as well. Was it Never push your own opinion? Listen and do not judge? Avoid conflict–it hurts?
The reason I bring this up is because I follow various blogs, off and on, and I see an unhealthy polarization of strongly held views. I want to break into some of these dialogues, make comments ask questions, without being judged for not accepting trite answers.
An example of this discussion of important views is the debate about the Common Core curriculum. Wanting to catch up on the issues in the field before going back into teaching, I signed up to follow http://atthechalkface.com and started reading with interest views opposing the Common Core, but began to be put off by the style of some of the arguments, which sometimes seemed to have an ethos of “omg, look what other ridiculous things the other side is doing and saying.” So I looked for sites advocating the Common Core, and found the same thing–point-by-point rebuttals missing key information, thinly veiled, derision, reliance more on prior sympathy of the reader than reason.
Still, I’ll keep at it, try to get at the essence of these arguments so I can weigh them, but I wish I could jump in the middle, invite everyone to the Wardroom Pub and facilitate a face-to-face exchange. Surely there are some on both sides (we all know not all) whose primary interest is best educational principles and practices, and under that deeper principles of sustainability and positive evolution, i.e. natural law? And surely some on both sides are willing to work through difficult times of transition without blaming all the problems on the opposite camp? Or is that too much to ask?
I feel the crowning glory, such as it was, the pattern I hope to exemplify, of my efforts to build communication channels at least one on one, was at a home school conference I attended a few years ago. I’d been thinking about young earth creationism, wondering how folks and come up with that interpretation of geologic time and biblical record, and saw a table with all kinds of books on that very topic. At that particular table there were no women in long denim skirts and head scarves, just one bespectacled, bright-eyed man in his late fifties or so. I approached him, told him I was interested in creationism and the arguments before, seeing as I’s been raised on a different interpretation, which had been reinforced by my biology studies. I had not grown up with creationism, nor had I been convinced by the arguments I had thus far seen (bumping into a lot of conservative Christians in the homeschooling community as I did), but was truly curious, and felt that any good argument should have sound scholarship and science behind it. What would he recommend as reading?
Then I saw, not literally but really, his eyes start to glaze over with a protective film, as in, “Ah, she is One of Those. Other alert!” You know the sense you get when someone politely decamps you, right in the middle of a conversation, perhaps with a patronizing sympathy that you persist in your lack of faith?
But I decided to called him on it. I told him what I’d seen in his eyes, and suggested that was one of the very problems; that each “side” was unable to connect with the thoughts and beliefs of the other, and share a sympathetic sense of humanity, and a desire to know the truth. Beyond that, I didn’t think the issue was pivotal to one’s faith or salvation anyway, but shouldn’t those interested be able to look further, without judging one another? Surely one should not avoid or fear the truth, or the attempt to get to it, whatever it turned out to be?
His heart opened up, his eyes brightened. And I came away with several books, seemingly well researched and somewhat beyond my understanding, what with all the geology and archaeology therein. But the most valuable thing I gained was the magic of that moment of reconnection, and that’s the kind of moment I long to help make happen, in family life, in community, writing, and in education.