A lot of teaching is trial and error, for me anyway. It’s more art than science, and I’ve struggled through the years to determine what works. For example, there were many years where I had what I called a “gripe speech” as a precursor to the persuasive speaking unit. The thought process is that students could use the gripe to think about what they wanted to change. All too often, unfortunately, the gripe students had could be reduced to something like, “I hate people because they don’t do things the way I do them.” Back to the drawing board.
Since I would frequently leave gripe speech day miserable, I changed the assignment to what I called a “one great thing” speech. Students need to put together an argument that a particular law or policy is a great one. At least this starts us on a positive note. Generally.
Pertaining to this speech I recently had a conversation about drug policies in sports. And in that discussion, we explored the difference between what we think and what we feel. The easiest way to understand this distinction, perhaps, is if you’ve ever been in love with a person you know is not good for you. Your brain is good at thinking (well, maybe). Your heart isn’t.
Anyway, back to the point. After the speech I said I agreed with his current position – that if someone is using banned substances, he or she should be suspended. So far, so good. I think pretty much everyone would agree that a person breaking the rules should receive some punishment. For us and banned substances, it’s suspension. Fine.
Once we agreed on that, I asked him about the time before baseball banned steroids. I asked if we should hold players accountable for steroid use, for example, before MLB banned the substances. He agreed that we shouldn’t. He didn’t think about the implications of this position. He just answered the question, which is exactly what I wanted. And let’s be honest, most of us understood as children that there’s something wrong with making up the rules as you go along. There’s something wrong with punishing someone for doing something when it wasn’t illegal, just because it became illegal later. Think about something like seat belt use. Just because there’s a law today mandating their use doesn’t mean we can retroactively penalize non-seat belt wearers from 30 years ago.
Next, I asked about a very specific period of time in the game’s history, the time after Faye Vincent’s June 7, 1991 memo banning steroids and other illegal drugs, but before the issue was collectively bargained, with the August 30, 2002 agreement. Because this particular student was using his head, he said that the period in between is also a time when steroids were essentially allowed. It’s hard to argue otherwise unless you’re coming from a crazily pro-management or anti-labor perspective. And really, you’d also have to ignore the laws around collective bargaining. I’m far from a labor lawyer, but I know that management cannot simply impose its will in a collective bargaining environment.
Then I asked him how he felt about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They almost certainly used performance enhancing drugs. But, aside from Bonds’ 2003 use of what has become known as the cream and the clear, there’s no evidence that either ever used a banned substance after they were banned. And in 2003 there was no punishment allowed for steroid use.
In spite of his answers to the previous questions, he said they’re both guilty. He said they shouldn’t get into the Hall of Fame. He understood the journey I had just taken him on. He wasn’t happy about. But he was sticking to his guns. This is a smart guy. He clearly understands basic logic. However, his gut tells him that Bonds and Clemens are bad.
Teaching is hard. Logic is hard. And even when people have the ability to understand logical arguments, they sometimes have to make the great leap to actually apply those arguments. Not all do.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about changes I make in class to try to do a better job. I know I have a better time in class with the “one great thing” speech than the “gripe” speech. And I have great time in class talking to smart people about how to make logical arguments.But is it a success if someone understands the logic but won’t use it? I don’t know.
As for Bonds and Clemens, clearly there needs to be some other “argument”.