Phyllis Mentzell Ryder seeks to push her students (and herself) beyond the paralysis of moral relativism in classroom discussion. Ryder examines works of what she considers to be activist literature/academia and identifies three recurrent rhetorical strategies among them: hierarchies of ignorance/awareness (“people are racist because they don’t know any better”), personal experience (“claims can’t be universal because my own lived experience varies from that claim”), and liberation morality, where students and claimants acknowledge their positionalities while simultaneously analyzing the power relations at play as often as possible. Ryder believes the first two strategies still lack an awareness of a larger discourse or fail to consider the stakes of power dynamics, and she ultimately advocates for a use of liberation morality. Ryder suggests a heuristics of interrogation that evaluates an individual positionality but does not end there, consistently questioning the macrodynamics of who benefits from a relativistic stance. How do individual opinions intersect with systems of oppression and uphold larger discrepancies of power?
- ASSIGNMENTS. This article’s suggestion to move forward with liberation morality-based heuristics makes me wonder whether we could construct a guiding questions document in interrogating sources (a cheat sheet of sorts). It might be worth it to set aside a day of class to walk through these questions.
- CONSISTENCY. Another takeaway is that it might be best to aim to purposefully incorporate an element in all assignments that requires the student to evaluate the positionalities of the author and the larger context of discourse.
- SCHEDULING. Ryder’s liberation morality stance requires an acute awareness of one’s own multifaceted positionalities and the larger implications of those identities. It then seems fruitful to frontload the semester with an assignment that explores and examines those held identities in order to give students sturdier footing come time for larger discussions or debates.
- ENGAGEMENT. Ryder mentions that a difficulty with moving to this stage of interrogation is that not all students will feel comfortable enough (nor will they care enough) to move beyond relativism. What active steps can we take in discussions/ classroom scaffolding to get these students actively engaged?
- INTERROGATION AS NORM. As academics, we ourselves are used to examining and reevaluating our own held beliefs and biases. Some undergraduate students are not as used to this. As the political climate grows more polarized, how do we handle students who take this practice of debating beliefs and analyzing power systems as a personal attack? How do we proactively frontload our classes to start from a common ground of understanding?