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Teaching the Election: Gilbert

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In this series of posts (see also Teaching the Election: Intro and Teaching the Election: Appiah) I’m talking about how to teach the election without promoting a single political point of view or allowing students to get stubbornly stuck in us vs. them political positions. Another great reading to help with that is Gilbert.

Daniel Gilbert, in “Reporting Live from Tomorrow,” looks at how truly awful our imaginations are at predicting our future happiness. And really that’s what any election is all about: which candidate will lead in a way that offers me the most happiness for the next four years? Answering that kind of question, Gilbert shows, is anything but easy.

Unless you use surrogates. For Gilbert, surrogates are people who are living an experience you hope to have. For example, if you want to find out if you’re really going to be happy as a doctor, then you should talk to someone who is a doctor. I think you could have students explore this concept, and its limitations, in relation to the election. What kind of surrogates might we locate to help make our voting decision?

Of course, Gilbert also points out that people are loathe to use surrogates, believing that they are so special that in no way could someone else’s experience predict their own future happiness. That’s something for students to explore as well, considering the challenges to using surrogates in election decisions and life more generally.

Critical thinking often lies, I believe, in complication. Thinking about future happiness in the context of the presidential election is a wonderful way for students to work on complicating Gilbert’s ideas. In the process, not only will they become more adept at working with ideas in general but perhaps they will, if nothing else, examine their own thinking processes in relation to their political choices.

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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.