July 26, 2022
Instructors can help students discuss controversial issues by explicitly teaching the skills of intellectual charity. Students can improve these skills by working through simple, engaging practice exercises.
“You can be very, very powerfully persuasive without offering an argument at all. One way you can persuade someone to believe something, or at least to act exactly as if they believe it, is to convince them that their membership in their tribe hinges on their believing the claim in question.”
Thus spoke Harvard Philosophy Department chair Ned Hall to a group of professors at a recent seminar about how to help students practice charitable thinking skills. Dr. Hall posits that students’ group-ish tendencies contribute to the anxiety that now grips classrooms nationwide. An increasing majority of students are too afraid of their peers’ opinions to risk discussing controversial issues. As a result, students are more likely to keep quiet and pretend consensus with their group. So too increasingly are their professors, many of whom…