About Me

Find out more about me here.

06 March 2012

Reflections on a Tim Wise Talk

We were lucky enough to have had Tim Wise speak on campus yesterday. For those outside of academia, and the social sciences in particular, Tim's rhetoric can be quite shocking and radical. His delivery style is rapid-fire, and I found myself wondering how he was keeping from getting winded when I, as an audience member, was frequently out of breath. As a scholar, very little of what Tim had to relate was new or challenging. I'm buying what he's selling. As an educator, however, I started to become worried about the effectiveness of what Tim was relating. It got me thinking systematically about the whole thing.

First, I think that it is important to consider the goal that both Tim and our institution share in giving and inviting such a talk. I think Tim summed it up well in saying that when people become aware of their "lenses," they are better able to avoid outward bias and discrimination. Clearly, the intent all around was to encourage people to be more critical of themselves, to see things in context, and to move toward social justice--importantly, for both altruistic and selfish reasons. In other words, Tim and those who sponsor Tim's visits want to alter the perspective of those who are unaware that they have a deleterious worldview.

Second, having identified the goal, I think that it is important to consider the practical realities of the giving and inviting of such a talk. I sat near the front of the auditorium so my observations are limited, but it appeared that the audience was a friendly one. The risk with these types of events is that they become pep rallies for the home team or that they end up being nothing more than preaching to the choir. Those with dissenting opinions (i.e. the very people whose minds we would like to change) are likely to feel as if they are in hostile territory. Moreover, they are likely to get lost in the pace, cadence, and tone that are idiosyncratic to Tim. In short, I fear that these events don't (and indeed can't) do what we hope they do.

I'm writing about this here in an effort to hash out the pros and cons of not just "Tim Wise" the commodity but also all public discussions of this nature. Admittedly, I am quite ambivalent. Personally, I wrestle with these concerns in my own classroom. How much truth can the uninitiated handle without being blinded? At the same time, how little truth is necessary to challenge the ignorant to question their assumptions to begin with? I could walk into my classroom each morning and bash my students over the head with the ugliness of the world or I could spoon-feed them banal blandness. Clearly, neither of these options is desirable.

Tim really was incredible, though.

No comments:

Post a Comment