What Are Students Thinking? Part VII: More Stories
Part VII in a series. Read past installments here:
Before and after units, I give students a before and after survey, where I ask them questions about where they stand on the topic, I ask them about their confidence level, and in the pre-survey I ask what could change their mind, and in the post survey I ask if anything did change their mind. A few observations I’ve gained from that:
1) on topics where the conservative, religious answer doesn’t directly threaten their autonomy, and especially when the C/R answer might be comforting to a certain degree, C/R answers are much more common. Ex: on the mind/body problem. The belief that humans have a soul and survive death is comforting to them, so it is something that a lot of them gravitate towards. It doesn’t threaten their autonomy much, so there’s not much risk for them to give lip service to the soul. Past it offering a degree of emotional comfort, though, belief in a soul that survives death doesn’t play much of a role in their thinking and decision making.
2) On topics where the C/R answer does directly threaten their autonomy, they will resist it staunchly, and ignore/re-interpret counter evidence/complicating questions. Ex: gender and sexuality.
3) There is *a little* real wrestling with counter evidence and arguments, but not much. They tend not to change much from pre to post, and don’t show much evidence of engaging the arguments. When I ask “did anything challenge your thinking?” Usually they confidently say “no,” even if they had to read/view top scholars from the other side that presented rigorous counter-arguments, and they don’t offer much as to why they reject counter arguments. They pretty much ignore anything countermanding.
Maybe this is due to my teaching. I need to think about that. I’m fine with students not changing their minds. That is not really my goal anyway. But it would be nice to see evidence of them actually wrestling with the arguments in any sort of deeper way.
4) On morality, there is lots of confusion. Jumbled thinking. I call it “worldview salad.” For many of them, this is the first time they’ve heard any articulation of moral realism (the notion that there is an objective morality in the world that we discover, not invent. We do not give the world meaning; rather, the world has a moral order inherent in it that we discover), so that makes it difficult to understand. There is lots of speaking out of both sides of their mouth--relativist in one sentence, realist in the next.
For example, after watching William Lane Craig’s debate with Christopher Hitchens on God’s existence, we were discussing the debate, and the students who were speaking up were pretty insistent that there was “no evidence” that God existed. This, after hearing William Lane Craig go on for close to 45 minutes giving evidence! It’s not that they didn’t agree with the evidence or weren’t convinced by it or thought it bad evidence--that’s fine. Like I mentioned above, if they come to different conclusions than I do, that is fine and all part of it. It’s that they dogmatically insisted there *is* no evidence, after being confronted with evidence.
That’s dogmatism in action: dismissing evidence when presented with it, as if it doesn’t exist.
I asked them “ok, so what would count as ‘evidence?’”
Them: “he’d need to show me a miracle or appear to me.” I pointed out that this was an unfair standard--they don’t subject any of their other beliefs, even extraordinary ones, to this sort of standard, and what’s more, because they are thoroughly modern people, they’d probably write off the appearance/miracle as a hallucination. Still: ‘there’s no Evidence.’
Even a strong evangelical Christian struck this tone! He asserted “yea demonstrations and miracles don’t really happen today. No one has seen a demonstration.”
Me: “No one? How could you know *that*?”
Him: “well, no one I know has seen one.”
Me: “Maybe you should get out more?”
In sum, even though most of these kids haven’t put hardly any sweat equity into studying these issues and thinking through them--and how could we expect them to? They are 16, 17, 18 years old--they are supremely confident in wherever they land, whether that be a so-called “independent” stance, or one fully committed. Maybe one or two of them has read a book on the issue, or seen some history channel documentary while flipping through channels...never mind that. As one student asserted during the preferred pronoun conversation “older people tend not to ‘get’ gender like we do.” We moderns just *know* better. Besides having a slogan filled conversation with their peers every once and a while on the issue or watching some youtube videos, there’s not much more effort than that to really go deep.
Yet, they have dug in.
Dogmatic, in other words.