Disagree, My Students, But Do So Rationally!

Disagree, My Students, But Do So Rationally!

Many of the students in my college-level English classes are hesitant to disagree with my opinions and those of the authors I assign them to read. They fear that contrariness might adversely affect their grades. Yet, strangely, they often have no qualms about telling me straight out that they think the essays and books I’ve chosen are “boring.”

The irony, of course, is that by using the B-word, they tacitly are disagreeing with me and also disparaging my choice of authors. It’s either that, or they think I purposely choose “boring” material out of some perverse desire to punish them or make their lives miserable because, after all, that is what teachers do. Their use of the word “boring” disturbs me because I spend quite a bit of time at the beginning of the semester discussing the importance of critical thinking. “Please disagree,” I tell them. It doesn’t take much rumination to agree with everything you read and hear. But the catch is, disagree in a rational manner! Barking the B-word doesn’t cut it.

Critical thinking boils down to never believing a claim, especially an extraordinary one, unless sufficient testable evidence is provided to support it. And it is up to the claimant to furnish the verification. A person shouldn’t be able to get away with saying that he met an extraterrestrial in his backyard and then deflecting any suspicions about his veracity or sanity by demanding that his listeners prove him wrong. Sometimes I say to my students, “I have privileged information to the effect that there is a colony of bloodhounds howling away on the dwarf planet Pluto. I am the teacher and must be believed! You can’t substantiate the absence of those dogs, can you?”

Claiming something is boring is the lazy man’s way to dodge logical discourse. It’s as empty an argument as the one in favor of the Plutonian bloodhounds, as it rests on a point of view so intangible and unverifiable as to be completely vacuous. The B-word is detrimental to analytical thought and intellectually honest disagreement.

Image Source