Friday, August 28, 2009

motivated reasoning; or believing what you want

I just read a Newsweek article on a phenomenon called "motivated reasoning." The article was attempting to explain how people can continue to believe things even after they have been proven untrue. The original story was about people who believe the 9/11-Saddam Hussein link (which of course there is not one, was not one, will never be one, period). The article claims that people no longer seek information in order to learn or to engage in critical thinking, but that instead, they seek information to validate what they already believe.

My first response was "duh." I have been teaching college students for almost 10 years now. This is how my students think. It is the way many of them are being taught to write. They are taught to make a claim and then conduct research until they find someone (anyone) who will provide a quote or soundbite that backs up their claim. For the past five years I have abandoned the traditional make-a-claim paper and instead opted for an assignment in which they ask a question and then seek answers and then use their understanding of rhetorical situation to try to explain why people believe in, and write about, those answers.  This assignment frustrates students. They hate it. In fact, I have three or four every semester who can not do it, and I am forced to change the assignment a little in order to make sure that they can pass the research portion of the course.  I do so because I recognize that the format of my essay assignment is actually ideology. That seeking out others views is a progressive act. Supporting your own beliefs is a conservative one. Doing both is my goal.

1 comment:

  1. I love your assignment sequence. I do the inquiry and then argument (going with one of the topics they came up with during the inquiry paper). Most always, they have a problem with the inquiry paper and no problem (at least conceptually) with the argument paper.

    As far as the "motivated reasoning"...I do that. I've had to push myself to think critically about a lot of what I read/hear/see. Sometimes, or perhaps often, I slip back into the motivated reasoning.