On The Stress of Remaining “Neutral” – Reflections By Jeff Kosbie

by Robert Moorehead

I too have been accused … maybe accused isn’t the right word … I’ve had students ask that I be more neutral on the issues we discuss in class. The request is almost always meant in a kind way, since I tend to be rather passionate in my teaching. But I worry that it can also carry with it the idea that we’re reducing talk about science to everyone’s opinions. So, I would need to be open to opinions that are not supported by evidence, even when those opinions contradict decades of research that show a completely opposite pattern.

I try to push students to support their claims, to develop logical arguments that are supported by more than anecdotal evidence. Sociologists disagree with each other all the time, but we don’t (or at least shouldn’t) simply dismiss those with whom we disagree.

Should we be neutral in class? I think a better word is to be diplomatic, to create a classroom environment in which students can freely and respectfully share their ideas and test their understandings. We have to model the behavior we expect from our students, especially when we’re challenging their understandings. When faced with a professor who comes across as dismissive or “biased,” students may become more entrenched in defending their views, as if the classroom were a battle of wills. They also might avoid your classes the next time around. But neutrality in the face of illogical arguments and bad science? What’s the point?


One thought on “On The Stress of Remaining “Neutral” – Reflections By Jeff Kosbie

  1. Humanity can be identified in many ways. We are, each one of us, unique in some fashion and we are all minorities by some criterion. Since the world is not set up to cater narrowly to any of us as singular individuals, it is evident that we are all facing discrimination. The discrimination is not particularly focused on “me” or “you.” Instead it is simply the way that any large society must operate. Some concern for individual differences, certainly. But also a great deal of indifference because perfect fairness for each individual is not practical. Perfect accommodation costs money. We now have restrooms for two genders. We can add a third restroom for transgendered. But they, too, have variations so we might need additional restrooms to address each sensibility. Why not special restrooms for the morbidly obese, children, the aged, handicapped, etc. In fact, there are special restroom designs for each of those categories and likely many others. In the end money matters and there are practical limits to what society can afford.

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