Apr 3, 2018

a pedagogy for the art of changing your mind

On my morning run, I was dreaming up an exercise for undergraduates in the art of changing one’s mind, as an early-semester experience that would ready them for a course in, say, media studies, or contemporary arts, or public design across scales, or related things. I don’t have any classrooms in my near future, so I’m parking this here in hopes of finding similar ideas from others and using it eventually.

I’m imagining it this way: we take a look together at projects like If/Else Studio’s Smell Dating, compared to Tania Bruguera’s Immigrant Movement International, compared to something like the OXO Good Grips line from Smart Design. Projects where form is really what’s at stake. We wouldn’t be debating the politics as such, but instead the choices of the authors or producers in making culture.

Students would take a position on a prompt of, say, “effectiveness” in these works, as a way of locating their own disposition toward problem-solving, scalability, practicality, the uses of humor and irony, and more. Or perhaps it’s an even weaker signal, like “resonates with me strongly” versus “resonates with me not at all.” We might then do those spatial exercises where you line up in a room according to a continuum of response.

But then things get more interesting. In groups, students artificially harden their initial response and provide a defense of what’s happening, creating a case for it that may be more strongly held than they’d really be inclined to build. And then, after a time, everyone takes the opposite point of view, charged now with digging deep to find ways to argue against their natural instincts. I realize that this is a classic strategy in debate teams, but here it wouldn’t really be built on techniques of argumentation that can be more easily codified. The debate would instead be more about how you mull over an initial response that is inherently subjective, and then test it once you’ve thought about it further.

All of this effort would be to set up a classroom where challenging material will be coming into the path of students, and this early discussion would be a way to lead with a call for intellectual elasticity. Can you retreat from your first response, or are you bound up by any of the multiple effects of confirmation bias? Is your taste still under construction, and can you keep it that way? Can you hang in there when something gets under your skin, and enjoy the period of scratching your head about it, unresolved? I know my engineering students need this, and I wish I’d deployed it in both Critical Designer, Activist Engineer, and Investigating Normal. I’m eager to hear from others if you’ve got an similar exercise in your classrooms.