Re: Re[6]: Re-examining our practice

Mon, 12 Feb 1996 08:19:06 -0500

On Sun, 11 Feb 1996, Greg Ritter wrote:

> The classic example is, of course, a student arguing from a
> religious perspective, perhaps using the Bible or another
> religious texts as a basis for their academic argument. It is
> necessary to explain to them that in the standards of academic
> rhetoric using the Bible as "proof" is not generally accepted.
> This standard is an ideological position that values logical,
> rational thought over religious conviction (and an ideological
> position that is relatively new to the several thousand year old
> tradition of rhetoric). In this instance, correcting the rhetoric
> is tantamount to saying your position is not valuable in this
> context.

I understand the point you're trying to make Greg, but I do think
that there are appropriate ways to handle even a dilemma as extreme,
as you say, as this.

First of all (and ideally), if students are engaged in conversation
rather than in argumentation, the student who is arguing belief
based upon Biblical authority will soon discover in the academic
classroom an audience whose diversity of beliefs will make
the Bible less of an authority. A large number of students with either
not recognize the Bible as authority at all or they will have their
own particular interpretations of that same text. The student then
will have to reassert her argument in such a way as to appeal to
the more general and academic audience. In this ideal situation,
she's learned for the practice and not from having her teacher
step in to "correct" her use of Bible as authority.

Beyond the ideal, however, you can still "correct" your student without
having to attack her ideology or belief. You can make sure that your
student understand the particular academic audience. You can explain
that arguments based upon authority never work when the audience
does not see the "authority" as indeed an authority. You can cite
other examples. You can talk to your student about arguing anything
base upon belief. Again, there are some ways to allow students to *both*
construct logical arguments with wider appeal that still recognize
the student's right to an ideological opinion based upon belief.

There's a difference between any of these approaches and saying to
a student something that amounts to "your religious belief is wrong."

Certainly I don't claim that a focus of rhetoric as our field of
expertise will keep us out of sticky situations, but I do think that
keeping that focus will put the onus for liberalization on students
themselves without our having to assume the role of preachers or
politicians. After all, we do want them to think critically about
their own lives, experiences, and ideologies -- not simply to replace
theirs with ours.

Beth Baldwin