Tue, 6 Aug 1996 23:16:32 +0000

Margaret Barber wrote:

> In teaching issues-based 102 classes, I have found use of a listserv run
> by three or four cooperating teachers from geographically distant areas
> incredibly helpful in dealing with the dualism characteristic of entering
> freshmen, especially when it comes to their use of premises based on
> religious faith in developing an argument.
> I don't have to "threaten" their faith or reveal my own position, but they
> quickly discover that citing a religious text as authority for a premise or
> assumption will result in their being carefully questioned by their reading
> audience of students from varied backgrounds. They learn quickly to
> seek out authority that will be accepted by those with whom they are
> trying to communicate.

I have to agree. For the last year, my 101 and 102 students were
linked by a listserv to students at another university who differed
from them geographically, economically, culturally, and in terms of
life experience. One school was situated deep in the Old South;
the students were young, wealthy, primarily white, and steeped in
"tradition." They were in conversation with students at an urban
university who were older, less privileged, and much more worldly.

The listserv gave both groups the opportunity to listen to those
people who would normally be outside of their experience. The
students really claimed the list as their own and were amazingly
self-regulated when it came to the arguments they would or would not
accept from one another. At one point in the second semester a thread
arose on assisted suicide (which evolved a number of times to discuss
suicide, the nature of God, whether or not religion is a historical
construct and many other related issues). Many of my students
attempted to use the Bible as a final authority on these issues, for in
their experience the Bible is generally accepted without question.
They learned in short order that convincing the others on the
listserv required more than simply quoting the appropriate scripture. Had
they been in conversation with one another in the classroom,
their Biblical citation would have carried much more weight, despite
anything I might have said to the contrary. Engaging students with widely
differing value systems, however, taught them far more about tailoring
an argument towards their audience and finding common ground for debate
than I could ever have done by simply telling them the same thing.

Cecilia A. Hartley
University of Louisville