Attorneys regularly counsel against asking witnesses questions on the stand when they don’t know how they’ll answer. Thank goodness I’ve never had to run a classroom that way.
When I asked my 9:00 UE I section if they perceived any breaches in the logic or ethics of Thoreau’s argument in Walden–that he went to the woods because he wished to live deliberately–the answer I had in mind was that his approach could seem selfish. What I got from one brave student was quite unexpected. “I admire his writing,” she said (and I’m paraphrasing here). “But sometimes it seems to me that he’s just another privileged white guy taking a gap year to find himself.”
I respectfully disagree with her regarding Thoreau. However, her comment sparked at least a couple of classes’ worth of debate about the meaning of privilege in contemporary culture. The word has evolved to mean “a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.” It sometimes seems to be a dog whistle from the political left, a rhetorical means of shifting a discussion towards ad hominem and away from the issue at hand. “Socialist” and “elitist” seem to serve a similar function for the right.
My somewhat naive solution involves assessing people based on what they do and say rather than on their apparent demographic. Regardless, thank you, Gracie, for initiating the first solid debate of the year. I hope it continues below. Points to Gryffindor–or Goen, whichever you prefer.