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?