Are all ideas equal? Not in the classroom


There is a widespread belief amongst teachers that it is part of their duty of care, even a defining aspect of their of professionalism, that all views expressed in the classroom are to be treated equally. 

I take it as one of my first duties to challenge this. The right to have a view is indeed equally shared, but this is does not imply the same for the idea itself. If all ideas are equal, then all ideas are worthless.

If we accept this, then we can meaningfully ask questions about how these views might be evaluated – true grist for the educational mill.

A fine line

An American bill, defeated ultimately by the Oklahoma Senate this year, attempted to legislate that students were not to be “penalised in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories”.

Obviously this terrain that must be carefully negotiated in the context of developing minds, but there is a core principle here that requires articulation.

Central to a liberal society is the right to discuss things. Not being able to do this is totalitarianism – the banning of unsanctioned ideas. So where on the continuum of controlling public discourse, if it is to be done at all, can we comfortably sit?

The further we move away from unfettered public speech the murkier the waters become, with calls of and for censorship beginning after the first paddle stroke. Where this boundary lies for and within individuals is highly significant in an educational setting.

Let me make the point in a broader social context, one that involves exploring that most cherished of hurts, the pain of being offended.

Written By: Peter Ellerton
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  1. Hmm scientific theories and facts do not respect opinions they just are. Freedom to reject facts is not actually freedom its delusional. Respect for  fact rejection  is not really respecting the person either. It is writing them off and denying their right to hear what is known just because they may not like it or don’t want to hear it. Especially in the classroom.

    Freedom is like George Orwell sort of says in 1984, freedom is having the right to be told 2+2=4 if that is what the evidence says not conned into thinking it is a matter of opinion.

    After that people are perfectly free to not like what they’ve been told and have an opinion about that fact. I don’t like the idea of global warming for example but can’t deny it.What they’re not free to do is sit in a bubble and expect the world to pretend just to them it isn’t true or that their opinion is valid just because its an opinion.

     So people are free not to like the idea that women and men are equal or evolution is true or whatever, but not free to pretend those aren’t facts.

  2. Any competent  teacher or examiner is going to put √ s  & X s  on answers, and in subjects like science or maths these are not negotiable or matters of opinion!

  3. Whomever argues they are is not giving equal weight to the argument they are not and proves they are not by having an argument that they are. 

  4. I think I prefer “Fallacy of Personal Offense” or “Fallacy of Personal Attack” or maybe “Fallacy of Victimization” but I take whatever catches on. “Fallacy of Deepest Offense” works for groups also.

    At the core of this problem is immaturity or lack of awareness. It is the feeling that somehow you are being victimized by the person who questions the view. At times, people do personally attack others unknowingly. In this case, the problem comes from both sides.

  5. Apart from the newtonian reductionsim of maths and science in which (at the school level) is pretty much beyond debate.  The teacher is right to challenge the equality of views.  While the right to express a view has to be respected in free speech not all actual views are equal in fact some are down right reprehensible and deserve no respect.  We shouldn’t respect views we should evaluate people reasons.  If someone wants to declare the earth flat or that elvis is alive and well they can do so but must have the evidence or feel the burden of incredulity from people who can prove otherwise.
    For the learner, becoming reasonable and making sound judgements as they develop falls the burden of knowing that which is debatable i.e. which problem solving method is appropriate in the problem domain. 

  6. Maybe it comes down to the value of ideas to society…. when first stated,  an idea has no value.  As it is considered and as evidence is built up   to give credibilty to the idea,  its value rises and the more seriously it will  be considered.  If no evidence is forthcoming, it remains as just an idea with no value.   
    So in relation to the article,  all new ideas propounded at a particular moment and situation would have  no value and would therefore be equal in a sense.  As soon as each one begins to be evaluated  its value would rise or stay at zero (in which case it would probably be discarded as a ‘bad idea’ in that circumstance).  

    Its somewhat related to the issue of  media interviews that give  an astrology and astonomer the same exposure  to provide alternative views …the interviewer has not done his homework and is wasting the viewers time.  The purpose of  introducing speakers is to give an idea of their credibility to the audience and the assumption is that the interviewer has done so beforehand if it is not done during the interview.  The teacher and  interviewer have a responsibilty  to their students/audience and should be properly trained to  demand  evidence  to support ideas and not expect the non expert audience to to have to do so. 

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