So I did something a little strange with the MWF class today. I shared an online article with them -- click here if you would like to look at it. So what is the "strange" part, you ask dear readers? The article is called "The Rhetoric of Abortion: Reflections from a Former Pro-Life Activist" by Elizabeth Wardle (the article actually came to my attention a few days ago via the WPA list serve). Why would I purposely bring up the touchy topic of abortion in a class that is already struggling with a touchy topic?
I think the essay, as a rhetorical whole, gets at the "gray area" that I am encouraging my students to seek. In the article, Wardle talks about growing up with a religious family that identified itself as being "pro-life" but "college showed me that life is full of gray." Later she starts to question her original position and "the more [she] learned, the more [she] began to let go of [her] carefully held certainties." Today she still identifies herself as a Christian and someone who would like to see "a new discussion" that "employs ner terms, contexts, and standards..." She wants to more proactive instead of reactive. So in our class, students are saying a lot of things like "I am not racist because I don't do anything racist to other people." What they don't consider is the fact that if they are marked with white skin, they might (if you go along with Peggy McIntosh) get unearned privileges in our (racist) society. So it's too simple to just say that an individual herself/ himself is not racist. It's more complicated than that. Just like when folks get into fist fights about where life starts (at conception? at birth?). Abortion is more complicated than just that one question. I just want students to see that the issue of race is just as dense and "gray" as an authentic discussion about abortion.
I think it sort of worked. There is one bright young woman in the class, Student L, who resists me on anything I say (she identifies herself as mixed race by the way). She said in class a few minutes ago that my analogy didn't work. There aren't two sides to the issue of race like you might see in abortion. True, but the gray area works (and wouldn't there still be two sides if you see Amercians complaining that some folks make too much of race and other Americans say that we haven't made enough of race?). Anyway, I am still thinking this through. Of course, Student L raised an interesting point and I am happy, on one hand, that she feels comfortable enough to really "fight" with me. I just wish it wasn't every single thing that I said in class! :D