Monday, July 31, 2006

There is no point not having a point of view

On February 3, 2005 I had a conversation with Bob that touched on the topic of plagiarism. Bob said something that I had not heard elsewhere on the matter. He thought that the real reason why most students were guilty of plagiarism was because they thought a paper was just a collection of facts and ideas that are collated into a logical order. There is no "self" in the papers that they wrote. An essay is a "third person" affair. Is it any wonder that writing papers are seen by students as a chore? Its just another form of raking leaves.

When I was in first year university I didn't know that there were schools of thought within disciplines. I didn't know that research journals were bloodied battlefields that determined what knowledge and status. It took a mandatory social science course that I took in my second or third year that exposed me to the soft human underbelly of what I thought was straightforward and objective science.

So of course I think Wikipedia's Neutral Point of View policy is laughable. I don't think we can be neutral - its biologically impossible for us to do so. We can't help but judge what is before us. Furthermore, what we think affects what we perceive which, in turn, affects what we think (Stumbling on Happiness does a great job of a quick job of summarizing the science of this. Literary theory, never quick, is also relevant here but I don't touch the stuff myself.)

When we decide not to take a stance and decide to "teach the controversy" instead, we lose something. When teachers are forced to partake in academic crossdressing and present Evolution and Big Coincidence, Global Warming and Within Parameters Warming, Armenian Genocide and a Big Misunderstanding - all side by side, with equal billing - well, more than the truth is lost. Meaning is lost. Lives are lost.

Let's throw our students into the battlefield of ideas as soon as possible.

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