• Rich Bordner

Classroom Conversations




I recently gave my philosophy class the chance to choose the day's discussion. Normally, the topic is set by the most recent content, but we had a day to spare, so I let them direct the topic. They chose legalization of drugs. Usually I have to wait a while for hands to go up and for students to start talking, but for this one I had a ton of hands right away. They immediately came alive, which was unexpected; out of all the topics we could and do discuss in class, I wouldn't have picked this one as the one that grabbed their attention the most, but on the other hand, maybe I should stop being surprised by being surprised. I really wanted to ask lots of probing questions, but doing so was difficult due to the volume of students who wanted to jump in. After a few initial pushbacks from me, I had to settle on simply refereeing the student input. Some students advocated for legalizing all drugs, but some not. It was pretty much split 50/50 on that....but: on Marijuana they were pretty much all in agreement. All but two pushed hard--HARD--for legalizing weed. This is nothing new. The overwhelming majority of students I encounter are fully on the legalizing bandwagon, and have been for a while. Still, the conversation was instructive. What was interesting was not that they were for legalizing marijuana; what was interesting was their reasoning behind their stance. It served as another anecdote demonstrating trends in student thinking I've noted before. One student was strongly against, and another mildly against. All the rest were staunchly for it, mostly based on personal experience and slogans like "it doesn't hurt anyone and has lots of benefits." They were supremely confident in all this, dogmatic, almost. I kept wanting to ask "where did you get that from?" They sometimes get these notions in their heads based largely on limited personal experience and cursory social media reading, and it is hard to get them to pump the brakes at all. They think "everyone does it." Everyone? and even if, so what? They think "there's no harm," but how would they know that? How deep, really, have they looked into the question? That's a question I'd really like to know. No one was familiar with the extensive literature on the connection between marijuana use and risk of future psychosis (They are 17, 18 years old, so maybe I shouldn't expect such..but still, if you are going to be that confident about it, you should do a little digging before such confidence shows up.). That's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Maybe such considerations aren't dispositive either way (then again, maybe they are), but at the very least grappling with those findings should dampen the enthusiasm. Hard to get them to countenance any of that, though. Expressive Individualism was commonly the basis of their reasoning. Multiple students who strongly argued for legalizing all drugs did so on the basis of that ideology: "if you want to do drugs, that's you, I can't get in the way of that. It's your life." They had no concept of the relationships that tie us together: that guy that just took opiods is a father, a husband, etc. It doesn't just affect him. The effects ripple outwards to those he is bound to, and to society at large. We are not just individual monads seeking happiness. Many students pride themselves on being unique and valuing diversity. But if everyone is saying the same thing, are they really all that different? Why do all the non-conformists dress alike?

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