Monday, November 3, 2008

I was listening to NPR on my way home. The topic of conversation, only the middle of which I caught, seemed to be what listeners think about polling. So, this man calls in and compares two surveyers who recently telephoned him. The caller says that he viewed one more positively than the other, and the host asks why. The caller says that he didn't like the first, that it was a computer. He could tell that the program was designed to generate follow-up questions tailored to his responses. The caller didn't like it. Again, "why?" "I don't know," he says, "I just didn't. I can't put my finger on it. It just seemed so ersatz."

What does that mean? I know what ersatz means (although I'm not entirely sure the caller did), but what kind of "view" is that? Did this guy call up his radio station to share this opinion? Is it just me, or does it seem like we are so caught up in the notion that everyone should have an opportunity to say what they think that we've lost sight of the thinking that should precede the saying? Is it true that everyone's thoughts should be heard?

I have similar questions about student evaluations. Students are not experts in the subjects they take in school, and they are not pedagogical experts either; for the most part, they have never taught, and despite what they would claim, they do not even have that much experience in the classroom--at least not compared to the person teaching them. They don't know what is effective in a broad sense. All they know is what they "like." We are so committed to giving everyone a "say" and making everyone feel as though his or her opinion is valuable, no matter what, that nobody dares to ask whether every opinion really is significant. There don't seem to be many people who have informed reasons for liking, disliking, supporting or not supporting things. And it is scary that, on the basis of whatever whim or dyspepsia or arbitrary bad association, everybody gets to vote, evaluate, and speak out. If I were running for office, I would endorse a public service campaign to promote more thinking and less speaking out.

I guess you don't have to be a card-carrying Derridean to know that this blog needs to end immediately.

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