Allowing humbug in the classroom: Acknowledging diversity in thinking


In the beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), Ebenezer Scrooge has the divergent opinion that Christmas is nothing but a humbug and that charity to others is worthless.  Although, Scrooge changes his mind at the end of the story, how would we address him if he was a student in the classroom?  Let’s not think of Scrooge as a student whose only difference in opinion is about the validity of Christmas or charity, but rather as a student who has unpopular opinions. In my experience within the classroom, students may engage in debate-like dialogues on a variety of topics about what is correct (right) and what is incorrect (wrong).  Dialogues can include abortion, atheism, feminism, gay rights & marriage, immigration, incarceration, politics, reproductive rights, sexuality, and being transgender to name a few.

What position do you take when such dialogues ensue in the classroom? Do you alleviate the disagreement amongst students? Let the classroom tension exist? Try to present the issue in a balanced perspective? Remain as neutral as you can?  Do you try to move the class to an agreement? There is a push to have classrooms remain as safe spaces for learning.  However, this could be detrimental to students.  Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote in the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic, about the concept of vindictive protectiveness in which a culture is created “in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.”

Worse charges could include being perceived as in the wrong amongst classmates and the instructor.  No student, or instructor for that matter, wants to be thought of as the class bigot or Archie Bunker!  Right and wrong determinations are fueled by one’s worldview.  Hunter (1991) writes that the progressive worldview is institutionalized and advanced amongst educated professionals or the knowledge sector.  The knowledge sector includes human service professionals and educators (Hodge, 2005).  In the classroom are we pushing a progressive worldview and giving more airtime to those who have similar moral thinking to our own while silencing those who do not? In Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind (2009), he feels that “moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth” (p. 89).  Are we trying to get consensus of opinion rather than exploring the diversity of opinion and experience?  Although uncomfortable at times, the search for truth is essential in the educational learning process.  This brings me back to my original thought; do you allow humbug in the classroom? Thoughts?