Teaching commas, critical thinking, and caring

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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I came across Barbara Fister's post "Beyond Ignorance" last week. Fister, an academic librarian*, crime novelist, and frequent blogger, writes provocatively about the mission of the college library in times of cultural stress and in the wake of events such as those that happened in Charlottesville last month. She argues that a college or university library should, of course, foster certain values in student researchers and writers: that knowledge making is based on reasoned debate and open mindedness and curiosity, for example, and that critical inquiry can be taught and modeled.

But Fister blew my mind a little with her idea that reason isn't enough of a response to hate. We in the academy have to teach caring--the idea "that caring for one another matters, too."

And as I'm in planning mode for the upcoming semester--assembling activities, writing syllabi and assignments, grouping readings, and designing classroom scenarios that will make writing groups successful--I'm wondering how best to teach students to care. I do spend a good deal of time early in the semester building community. I make sure everyone in the class knows every other classmate's first name by the end of week 3. I absolutely insist, and it drives my students crazy. I emphasize collaboration. I ask students to respond to one another's ideas with respect, both in writing and in speaking, with language that I model (I can see why you would think that way. What about this idea...?). I assign students to present their final projects, but I also assign several responders for each presenter so that each presenter can count on a few people who listen well enough to ask thoughtful questions at the end of the presentation. It's a little artificial, I get it. But it's something.

How much attention to you pay to this element of the social curriculum? How do you teach students to care for one another? Is anyone familiar with Harvard's Making Caring Common Project? At any rate, this is something I'll be working on and thinking about throughout the semester. And I have Barbara Fister to thank for the reminder.

*Barbara Fister is co-author of Research and Documentation in the Digital Age, Sixth Edition (Bedford/St. Martin's, 2016).