In a post a few days ago titled Skewering Academic Feminists we had written that it is distressing that so many students, particularly females, take umbrage when their views are challenged or when they're asked to support them with reasons. We noted that:
A reader e-mailed to share his thoughts on this phenomenon. Adam C. writes:
There's a lot to what Adam says. Ignorance of intellectual history deprives us of an awareness of the best that has been thought and written so we are oblivious to how banal, or insightful, our opinions are relative to the conclusions of those who have thought most deeply about things. Students who lack this intellectual reference point have no way to judge the worth of their opinions nor do they understand that good opinions are often the product of a kind of Darwinian selection that involves testing and challenge.
This lack of understanding leaves us susceptible to the attitude that as long as I feel strongly about an idea it is valuable in its own right. My idea is respectable simply by virtue of its being mine. For a teacher to challenge my opinions on politics or morality or whatever, is like challenging my opinion of my boyfriend or girlfriend - it's somehow impolite, disrespectful, and offensive.
No doubt this is partly a by-product of the relativization or subjectivization of truth. When truth is seen as a matter of personal affinity, when it's regarded as solely a matter of one's personal perspective, then challenging or questioning it is an odd thing for an instructor to do. It's like questioning someone's taste in ice cream flavors or the color they chose for their new car.
So it is unfortunate but unsurprising that students get a little miffed and flustered when they're asked to explain why they believe what they believe. Their opinions are based less upon reasons and more upon feelings that they can't easily articulate or explain. To ask them for reasons why they believe what they do is like asking them why they like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla. There's no satisfying way for them to answer other than to say that they just do.