Lance Scranton: Just listen, don’t judge
One of the most difficult skills to teach young people is rhetoric, which is effectively using language and style to persuade an audience. Controversial topics can be hazardous to the orderly functioning of a high school classroom especially when we discuss hot-button issues like: presidential candidates, free college, building walls, healthcare, immigration and even how people choose to identify.
Rhetorical understanding incorporates the idea that just because we listen to someone else’s opinion does not mean we agree with their particular viewpoint. Often young people get the mistaken idea that hearing a voice whose viewpoint differs is some type of placid acceptance. Too often students pick up this misunderstanding by watching adults whose tenacity to be right is, they believe, in direct relation to the decibel level of their voice.
Young people who are learning to use their voice in the world could really use better examples from the people who are supposed to represent our representative democracy. Too often people who espouse a disagreeable viewpoint are labeled as racist, sexist, xenophobic, islamophobic, homophobic or whatever emotional label is effective for shutting down any discussion — no matter that we are told to determine the worth of an argument based on the merits of the evidence.
So, we do our best to introduce students to the concept of using rhetorical strategies and devices to make a point instead of making an enemy. Most times the in-class debates work out really well and students are introduced to a different way of thinking about something; or consider an issue from a different perspective. But, it never means they have to agree.
Differences of opinion abound in the public school classroom (just as they do in the public square) and having experienced the first weekend of NFL games; it was apparent that the national anthem statements made by various teams and players would certainly bring about some emotion.
Surprisingly, after considering the merits, one very astute student said that while she disagrees with how the players expressed themselves, her opinion is that we fight in our country to maintain rights (including freedom of expression) unlike some other countries and we will likely forget about all this in a couple of weeks and move on. But freedoms come at a price, and we should respect their right to do what they did to bring attention to something they care about.
Wow! It was a good day for our republic!
Lance Scranton is a coach and teacher at Moffat County High School.Lance Scranton is a coach and teacher at Moffat County High School. Lance Scranton is a coach and teacher at Moffat County High School.
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