*I wrote this on a Facebook post in 2009. Although some of the society norms and laws have changed in here, the idea is still very much the same.*
This is how this would play out: I would tell a classroom we are going to do persuasive speeches and they can pick whatever topic they wanted. Naturally, I would expect these students to pick topics they know a lot about, feel strongly for and are convinced they are one sided on. That’s why after they submit their ideas, I’m going to tell them they have to do the opposite of what they picked.
For example, if a student says, “I want to do a speech against the Patriot Act.” Guess what? You’re doing a speech supporting the Patriot Act. When someone is sheltered in thought, what do they learn? And if they haven’t really given the other side much thought, how do they know for certain they truly support the side they’re on? Even if they still support the side they’re on following the exercise, they’ll most likely support it more strongly because they’ll have more reasons to support it.
This exercise is one I have never seen a professor or teacher give out from elementary education through the time I received my bachelor’s. I have, however, given myself the assignment. I did an assignment in high school on why they should legalize marijuana (a stance I still stand by) and came up with all these reasons as to why they should without really looking at the other side of why they shouldn’t. While at community college in speech class, I had the chance to do another persuasive speech. I chose to argue why they should keep marijuana illegal. I better understood why things are the way they are with the War on Drugs. I learned aspects of my high school argument I never would have known had I not looked at it from another angle. I mentioned the Patriot Act earlier. I believed I was truly against the Patriot Act until someone I know said “There’s absolutely nothing good about the Patriot Act.” I said there must be something good about it. I took the challenge of proving him wrong and did a speech on it in my State and Local Government class. It turns out I supported it under the context that I have nothing to hide in the event of wiretapping. I hope the process leads to who they’re looking for and brings eventual justice. These are conclusions I never would have come across, however, if I had not forced myself to look at this side.
We watched a movie in my creative writing class in college called Five Obstructions, where this director was told to make the same film in five different ways. One time he had to make it a cartoon; one time he had to go to a poor location and be filmed as a rich person, etc. The movie was a guide for a poem we were to write. Our teacher gave us all an obstruction for each of our poems. Mine objective as that I had to go to a car lot. Someone else’s objective for their poem was that they couldn’t use any adjectives. Things like that. The result of my car lot poem was actually two poems. I wrote basically the same poem but from two different viewpoints.
In a far-reaching sense, (you may say you’re going off where the sidewalk ends with your thought processes here) forcing students to take this approach is not about them giving a good speech. It’s about them becoming better communicators. There are a lot of different types of people in this world and even those that you come across that seem like they’re your bff, you’ll find they won’t be exactly like you. If you say they are exactly like you, well ignorance is bliss I guess. My best relationships had common grounds between us of course, but there were also continental divides. The only way that the relationships lasted was because we were able to not just accept those, but embrace them and learn about them.
Following the assignment, I would have my students write about their newly found ideas on the matter. Do they still support their original argument? I would hope an exercise like this would encourage more discussion about other topics in class as well, reworking their inner gears and telling them, “Yes, it’s okay to not just ask questions, but to question.”
Recently I was asked to join the Fair Trade Coalition on Facebook. I decided to find out what fair trade is all about before I smiled and joined. I thought Free Trade was where America’s at. In my research, I found that fair trade gives growers of consumer goods more of a ‘fair’ shake by giving them more profits than they receive under free trade, where companies can basically exploit cheap labor and more profits go to middlemen. But if I would have just smiled and nodded to fair trade, I could have been smiling and nodding to a group that beats women and children for all I knew. These are exercises that need to be instilled in the school system for more far reaching reasons than just the immediate.
We used to do perspective drawings in art in junior high. It didn’t teach me anything about perspective though. That was just a word to describe what I was drawing. I drew this city scene where the buildings were all up close and personal at the front of the page and the street wide and it gradually became more narrow until it ventured into the downtown area. The downtown area had big buildings off in the distance. So there’s these big buildings followed by smaller and smaller ones until you get downtown and you get these skyscrapers. Those skyscrapers are the larger picture. Perspective has that larger picture in our lives. We would talk about macro and micro in creative writing, the macro and micro of a poem. The macro is the overall feeling and message of a poem and the micro are individual lines, words, etc. that make up the macro. The micro of this assignment is the speech. The macro is the far-reaching effects it could have.
My challenge to you, then, is to challenge yourself looking at something you feel strongly about and turn it on its head. Are you very religious? Why do you suppose atheists are atheists? Look at it beyond the obvious surface answers. Do you listen to a lot of pop music? Ever try something in a totally different genre? I used to think I didn’t like heavy metal and then found prog metal and groups such as Between the Buried and Me. Challenge yourself to look both ways before you cross a street.