Teaching Tip: Entertaining Opposing Viewpoints

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” – Robert Frost

From Aristotle and Frost’s point of view, are we providing students with an education? Are we giving them the opportunity to discuss issues of disagreement and controversy? Or are we sheltering our students from hearing opinions and the supporting evidence that might make them feel uncomfortable and possibly moderate or change their positions? If we are doing the latter, we are also sheltering them from learning how to articulate and defend their positions with those who may disagree, as well as from examining and questioning their own positions. In other words, we are sheltering them from critical thinking – a particularly dangerous strategy in today’s politically and religiously polarized social environment.

So, rather than give students trigger warnings before a presentation or discussion on a potentially controversial or sensitive topics, give them Aristotle’s and Robert Frost’s quotes and their implications for students’ college education and development as human beings. This approach transcends censorship, speech codes, and First Amendment rights.

Submitted by:
Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D.
Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation
Clemson University
448 Brackett Hall, 321 Calhoun Drive
Clemson, SC 29634 USA