Social Question

SundayKittens's avatar

What's the best way to handle opinions that you consider ignorant?

Asked by SundayKittens (5834points) February 8th, 2010

Do you think it does any good to argue with opinions that you consider ignorant? In my case I mean my students…which obviously I have to handle with a bit more care.
Several of my students defended their use of the word “fag” today because they believe it’s a choice and that if they don’t like the sterotype, they shouldn’t be gay.
In an effort to keep my job and not have a Donald Duck-style stroke out, I chose to ignore them and walk away.
But in general, what are your thoughts on the right way to handle such things in life? Can we really change anyone’s opinions?

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52 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Slam my head agains the wall? that’s what I do sometimes – that and discuss all this incredulous ignorance with my husband. I think it’s good to debate, not argue, with someone that you consider ignorant – it’s also good to always question your own beliefs and ideas, in case what they tell you makes more sense than what you’ve thought all along. It they were my students (because I am a trained educator in relation to sexuality and gender) I would address it (I’ve done it hundreds of times) but if ignoring them was the best thing for you, then good for you. As for changing people’s opinions, the answer is a resounding yes, in that it is possible and has happened a lot of times.

SundayKittens's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir What are the limits that I should make when discussing this with my teenage students? In your opinion? I try to discuss it neutrally and with a tone of acceptance and not citing anything religious or moral..but in my head of course I’m ranting and cussing. It’s so hard for a big-mouth like me…..

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@kikibirdjones the limits are that you don’t let them see you become emotional and that you don’t discuss any personal details – you address it like you would any other statement that rubbed you the wrong way – you address it not even because it rubbed you the wrong way but because by not addressing you would be implicitly (even if not consciously) promoting an environment where students who are gay wouldn’t feel safe in – and as an educator, you have just as much of responsibility to them as you do to any of your other students – therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to inform your students that derogatory terms of such nature are not welcomed in your presense.

FrankHebusSmith's avatar

Just a side note, fag only became a derogatory term to refer to homosexuals in the early 1900’s and into the 50’s. Prior to that it has been a derogatory term for various groups of people that are irritating. I personally call people fags and in no way mean it as a “you’re gay” insult. I’ve been called a fag by friends of mine that are VERY homosexual.

The term is very quickly changing meanings to simply mean someone who irritates you. Like a**hole or jerk. There’s a whole South Park episode about this, lol.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@westy81585 the teenagers the OP is describing are not from the 1950s and are not using that time’s meaning – therefore it is insulting as is the idea that you can say some of your friends are ‘very’ homosexual – wtf does that mean, anyway? and p.s.: just because some of your gay friends accept you, a friend, calling them slurs does not imply anyone else in the queer or otherwise community wants to be called that. But hey, then again, I don’t glean wisdom from South Park.

FrankHebusSmith's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Your response leads me to think of you as, a Fag. Or a jerk, or a stuck up person.

Strange though, because I don’t think you’re gay at all.

hmm, i seem to go against your opinion.

Ivy's avatar

My 16 y.o. grandson just explained the new meaning of ‘gay’, i.e., “that’s so gay.” Essentially, it means ‘lame’ but it’s wrapped in derision for gays, and he can’t see a problem with that. I can’t change him, but I can, as his elder, turn it around in a way that helps him see the hypocricy and cowardice in disrespecting people by using the newest fad expression. He’s mixed and so I had no lack of examples that could be the next group to be targeted. We laughed. We talked about it. That’s all we can do, really, and walk our talk.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

My kids used to use “gay” simply to mean “something I don’t like”; it had absolutely nothing at all to do with homosexuality. They were aghast that I would suggest that using “that’s so gay” meant that they were expressing a homophobic idea. (Although they were for the most part somewhat homophobic while they were young; I credit their mother, who was actively homophobic.)

So… I started using made-up words, too, until they could never tell what I meant by the words that I used. It took about a week, but they got the idea that if we’re going to have a conversation, then we should at least agree on the meanings of words, even if our ideas didn’t coincide.

kevbo's avatar

Forgive me for presuming to know anything about teaching, but I guess my reaction is sort of along the lines of seizing a “teachable moment” and also approaching their thinking with a degree of compassion. If they’re experience is anything like mine was, they don’t really own their beliefs and won’t own their beliefs until they have a moment in their lives to step back and examine them. Chances are, they’re just repeating whatever their group or their parents think.

I don’t think it’s useful to argue, per se. That will just put them on the defensive and they’ll prioritize digging in before unpacking their McThought and taking a look at the bullshit they’ve been swallowing. I guess this also begs the question of the importance of teaching critical thinking.

So, perhaps you can nudge them or if you really decide to do something open the question up to a philosophical debate—ask them questions that will cause them to dismantle their belief (for the sake of finding it’s underlying reasoning). Other than that, take solace in the understanding that these are still kids with minds that have a little ways to go in their development and trust that somewhere along the way, they’ll have an epiphany. (It also helps to get to know gay people as people, by the way. At least in my experience.)

I suppose the best you can do is to help create an environment that pushes one toward that epiphany.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@CyanoticWasp and that’s a good example why someone in OP’s position can inform them of the ways their words can be read and improve the general problem.

FrankHebusSmith's avatar

I hope no one gets offended when they go to England and hear everyone asking for fags and calling people fags.

Cuz the meaning there is completely different.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@westy81585 yes and they explain this to you as soon as they want a cigarette so you learn the new meaning

SundayKittens's avatar

@kevbo “they don’t really own their beliefs and won’t own their beliefs until they have a moment in their lives to step back and examine them. Chances are, they’re just repeating whatever their group or their parents think”.....
This is the idea that kind of backs up my silence…I know they’re young and that they really don’t know much about the world or why they think the things they think. Good answer.

jazzjeppe's avatar

In a way, isn’t this what us teachers are here to do, deal with ignorance? I just posted a question about how to combat homophobia and I haven’t got any answers on how to do it more than just talk about it and highlight it whenever the discussion arise. I also believe it is for many a period of their life, perhaps even a part of their socialization and maturing and at the moment being homophobic is a part of that (and this is what I want to stop). I have actually told my students once that I was gay just to see how they would react (they still think I am, by the way) and that was a bit of an eye-opener to a couple of them.

Fred Astair said once: “The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any”. Perhaps the best we can do is bring some manners into our world and show our kids how to be. Instead of telling them we should show them. Does that make sense?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@jazzjeppe since you’re a teacher, you more than anyone should know that it’s “we teachers are here to do”, not “us teachers”. (I’m not, but please feel free to correct away at any time, though.)

jazzjeppe's avatar

@CyanoticWasp LOL, you’re right :) I felt it was wrong the second I wrote it. To my defence I would like to state the fact that English isn’t my first language (I am Swedish).

SundayKittens's avatar

@CyanoticWasp He’s still learning the language, I think….you’re doing great @jazzjeppe

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@jazzjeppe then you’re doing far better than I am.

Sandydog's avatar

This hasnt anything to do with the question itself,but fag in Britain is a slang word for a cigarette. Common question would be “Have you got a fag?” Cigarettes are called fags more than anything else – just a word of caution if you ever hear a British person refering to a fag !!!!

FrankHebusSmith's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Well the meaning is in the midst of changing again. So I guess you should learn the new meaning.

I have no other way I guess to show you that the people of my generation do not consider fag to be synonymous with homosexual, other than to show you these clips.

Times change, meanings of words change. Your kids are not trying, and in most cases no longer are being, to be offensive to homosexuals.

Get over it.

josie's avatar

To your students, I would clarify that everyone has an opinion, but not all opinions are correct. Certainly the use of the word fag is a choice-your students should be informed that these days, it is not a good way to win friends and influence people. As regards other contexts, I ignore opinions without foundation.

SundayKittens's avatar

@westy81585 But they ARE being offensive is the issue. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not hyper-PC, but when their words and actions make some other kid in my class feel uncomfortable or threatened then I have to step in. That’s NOT ok.

FrankHebusSmith's avatar

@kikibirdjones I’m just clarifying that they don’t necessarily mean the kid is a homosexual that they’re talking about. I didn’t say it was a friendly word. I still call people fags if I don’t like them. It just doesn’t mean they’re gay…....... As far as your actual problem, I’d call them fags, they sure sound like they are.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@kikibirdjones have you read any of the studies of “made up” segregation and “enforced inferiority”? (I’m not suggesting that you duplicate them!) That is, the studies where “blue-eyed people” in the class were deliberately made to feel second-class by the “brownies” (and vice versa). Powerful stuff.

But it would help to understand the dynamic that makes this ‘work’ for some people, even if you don’t actually implement it in real life.

FrankHebusSmith's avatar

Try forcing them to work together. If a group of people have to pull together as a team for something, they quickly accept all of the others differences.

Ivy's avatar

@ westy81585 That’s exactly what my grandson said. I have a b.s. in English, and the first thing we learned is that language is alive and always changing. It’s Aliiiive! I sense that your generation doesn’t have the prejudices, or at least prejudices in the same way, as earlier generations, and your collective sense of humor (all generalities) really appreciates social satire.
@jazzjeppe Whichever of your languages you choose to use, you sound like a born teacher to me!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@westy81585 no, you get over, your ignorance, that is – I am 26 years old, there is no new generation after me, I am it and I find it offensive as do many of the youths I work with. Period. you don’t sound like a sensitive individual whatsoever and even if you do use some other meaning and you are under the impression that you’re not being offensive, you can at least tell people that you’re using a different definition and not expect them to be aware of your circle of friends and whatever’s happening in your town, in your eyes or (kill me now) about what’s happening on South Park.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Not being a teacher, I use ridicule freely in such situations. Using advanced vocabulary makes them look all the more silly; they know that they’re being insulted, can’t form an intelligent response and other intelligent people are laughing at them. The William F. Buckley school of insults.

Response moderated
Ivy's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Do you hang out with any highschool kids? Just askin’ because they’ve got their own thing going on and it’s not that of a 26 y.o., or one hopes not.

CMaz's avatar

“What’s the best way to handle opinions that you consider ignorant?”

By not coming off ignorant yourself.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Dracool yes, of course – aside from the fact that I interact (and have this very conversation with them) with them on the train/bus daily…I don’t like the idea that this word (which is so offensive to some) now just means something less (?) offensive – yeah we’re doing much better

jazzjeppe's avatar

@westy81585 I see what you mean there and concur, it is very common to use the word fag and gay when talking about different things than homosexuals. After all the word gay ment something different originally. But as @kikibirdjones says, it’s that use of the word, when you use it in a condescending way you end up offend a lot of people. I have never understood why we just can’t stop using these words even if we know that people are offended. We have this case here in Sweden and it’s about the name of a stupid cookie which has been named “negerboll”, which in English would be “nigger ball”. I guess the name comes from the cookie being dark and baked with cocoa. I hate that name, not only because I happen to be colored myself, but because people are offended by it. My argument in that discussion has always been “Why the heck should we keep calling it that if we know that there are people being offended and hurt by it? Isn’t it easy to just call it a frakking “chocolate ball!”

The meaning of words do change and after all they have done so throughout the history of languages. But I believe we can and should prevent these linguistic changes to become offensive if we can.

FrankHebusSmith's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir You’re looking at this the wrong way.

Think of it like this. Fag has been a derogatory word for the last few centuries. Right up there with the F word, or a-hole, or whatever. When homosexuality became more prevalent or open in the early 1900’s, people who didn’t like homosexuals wanted to be derogatory to them and they labeled them as “fags.” If anything, homosexuals should be offended that people are actually accepting that fag means homosexual. That would be like if I started calling everyone who wore glasses a-holes because I don’t like them, and a whole section of the population picked up on this term and accepted it…. 100 years from now if everyone was known as an a-hole who wore glasses, I’d say if anything my intolerance and ignorance won because people came to accept the word to be synonymous.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@westy81585 and I can’t believe you are using the same argument with me, a person that has reclaimed the word ‘queer’ for my identity…me, a person that does believe in language’s flexibility…I just don’t think calling people fags (and you should stop calling me that or I’ll keep flagging you) is any better than meaning it ‘for homosexuals’ because that’s where this word’re not making this a positive transformation

and homosexuals are offended that fag is equated with homosexuality but they were not the ones to bring it into usage

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Personally, I’ve tried to stop being offended by words and labels, as long as they’re accurate. I don’t mind being called “an old fart”, for example, because I am that. I don’t particularly care to be called “right wing” or “conservative”, because I’m not really those things (in a political sense, anyway), and it doesn’t bother me to be called “crazy”, “ignorant” or “stupid”, because I am often all of those things.

As long as the label is accurate, then I don’t mind if it’s used. I just try to correct the inaccuracy sometimes, as I did in the example above with my kids, so that at least we know what we’re communicating about, even if we may not agree on how we feel about it.

wundayatta's avatar

Flame thrower seems about right to me.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

I have to resist the urge to ridicule. Sometimes I don’t succeed.

I get into a fair number of discussions about climate change. In a lot of these, people are falling for conservative talking points that masquerade as legitimate science. I can forgive ignorance in such people, but I try to educate them as to what’s really going on. The science is straightforward, but it’s not easy for somebody without a science background to understand.

In the case of social morality – I would not tolerate the use of such derogatory language. I’d have to call them out on it because there really isn’t any basis for misunderstanding.

SABOTEUR's avatar

The short answer to your question is no.

It’s virtually impossible to reason with anyone that does not want to be reasoned with. And if your students are as narrow minded in their opinions as my teenage daughter, the best thing to do is ignore them if you can.

susanc's avatar

1. Ignore only till you think up a strategy.
2. Apply strategy.

Do NOT pretend you aren’t offended. Kids know better. They may not
understand why you’re offended, but they can smell it the way dogs can smell fear. So think out your response and deploy it at will.

Teaching is a battle of wits.

ninjacolin's avatar

yes, you can change people’s minds. it require persuasive ability which is something you can learn from a book and with practice. go to your local book store and look into this. you will find most titles in the Sales and business section or you may find some titles in the Self Help section.

sales and persuasion is a skill. there are ways to disarm someone who starts off close-minded. there are ways to aggressively help people to learn new concepts.

ninjacolin's avatar

when you’re dealing with kids that young or an audience who has a short attention span, the advice of a book I read called “So what” comes to mind.. the first thing that comes out of your mouth has to be a single sentence (or two) that communicates quickly what a changed opinion will do to benefit them.

Berserker's avatar

Whenever I think someone’s being stupid or ignorant, I usually try and look at myself first. What bothers me about it, and why do I find it ignorant? Do my thoughts and ideals translate to myself thinking that my opinion is fact in regards to said hypothetical ignorant opinion? Is there anything beyond the claim that it’s ignorant for me to add?
In short, if it’s a lame opinion, or if I think so, I divide me emotions outta the way and try and find a reason to explain why it’s ignorant.
Of course I can’t make up a reason, it has to be non biased and as informed as i can manage. If not, I’ll shut up.

So many people think that their opinions are right when they don’t like the opinions of others, and this in no way to learn anything or certify one’s intellect.

Am not saying this is your case at all; am only giving an answer based on personal reflection. ironic this is what I usually do, find out why the opinion is ignorant, and make sure it has nothing to do with how I feel.

It can highly depend on if it’s a factual answer or a personal view…it changes, but I do my best not be ignorant on either side. Prolly dun work but ya know. :D

So however I deal with it, there isn’t much physical response from my behalf. Can’t teach things to people if I know nothing bout myself I suppose.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I just randomly stumbled on this
clearly, these people haven’t moved on with the times
I hate homophobia

ninjacolin's avatar

Ignorance is a very specific thing. It implies lack of knowledge.

People who offer ignorant comments are actually without better knowledge, without better thinking on the matter. If you ignore the ignorant, you are in a sense promulgating it, or allowing it to continue.

Response moderated
augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Personal attacks are not permitted, and have been removed.

CMaz's avatar

“yes, you can change peoples minds.”

I do not like that approach. What you want to do is enlighten an individual.
“Changing someone’s mind”, is causing them to admit defeat or to be corrected as in being wrong. That causes an up hill battle. Save that fro car sales.

When you provide good honest information (that being subjective) in a way that it makes them think. That is pretty much all you can do and should do.

If you force the issue (agenda), you become the ignorant one. And, lets not get forcing the issue and passion mixed up.
The goal is to allow an individual to learn, and understand. See a different perspective of a subject “on their own” allowing them to develope/make reason, understanding and inspiration theirs.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ChazMaz changing someone’s mind doesn’t have to have such a negative connotation (besides sometimes people are wrong)

CMaz's avatar

“changing someone’s mind doesn’t have to have such a negative connotation ”
True, when not forced.

”(besides sometimes people are wrong)”
You know that and I know that. But then again it is subjective.
It being only a concern to yourself. Push your concerns onto others and you end up with “negative connotations”.

Unless we are talking about textbook right and wrong. Like the right (only) answers are at the back of the book.

jazzjeppe's avatar

@ChazMaz @Simone_De_Beauvoir That’s an interesting thought though, the mind changing discussion. I ask that question myself many times how to deal with ideas and thoughts that I or the society I live in, believes is wrong. I posted a question some months ago about cultures that treat women extremely bad (fathers and brothers murdering their daughters and/or keep them locked up inside in order to “protect” them). We call this in Sweden “Culture of Honor” (not sure if there’s an English word for it). My question was if I should even try to change their minds or simply force them to follow the values we have in our society.

When I was doing my teacher training I faced a delicate issue: what do I do if a student of mine suddenly would say that he don’t believe in the holocaust and that it never happened? In one way this is what my job as a teacher is all about: encourage students to take a stand for what they believe in, encourage them to use their own brains and think for themselves. But most importantly to stand up for themselves. It takes a lot of courage to say something like that in a classroom and apparently the student had paid it a lot of thought and made his own mind. Now, what could I do here? I could get in to a discussion with him, but I know that discussions like these will often end where I am the one who lose. I haven’t read many books about the WWII, I haven’t read up on the holocaust – all I can is telling him what I believe, why I believe it and he can do just the same thing. The difference would be that this boy probably have read many books, papers and other underground texts, been to lectures by holocaust deniers and I would think he would have more arguments than me, to be honest.

I know this is an extreme situation and I hope I never have to deal with it. Even if I believe with every inch of my body that this boy is wrong, I cannot deny the fact that he has stood up for himself and what he believes in and that I have to respect.

Wow, this calls for a question of its own I think…

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