Teacher Reflection on Student Learning
Although the project did not generate a love of Habermasian debate (though it did for some) nor a desire to engage in such forums in the future, the questions it raised served as essential background for a later project when students began to consider forming their own publics.
Perhaps even more importantly, the Habermas project led the students to begin asking questions about what a public sphere could or should be, how different rhetorical strategies invoked and addressed different audiences, and finally what obligations citizens had to not only engage but also take seriously those who disagree with them. As Cass Sunstein and other have argued, the internet is quickly becoming an “enclaved” space where people tend to engage those who already think as they do (e.g. liberal blogs like Huffington Post or activist organizations like MoveOn.org rarely engage the “other” side of TownHall.com) or seek out, through social networking, those with whom they share an affinity.
If for no other reason, the focus the project gave to reaching across differences and the potential for reaching out past one’s personal experiences would encourage me to do this project again. Students did learn many writing skills (argument, logical debate) and rhetorical skills (appealing to an audience, responding to alternative facts and positions) but that was not the primary goal. Instead, the chief benefit seemed to be considering how the Net could make us reach beyond ourselves and encounter Others if we seek them out. The harder part was considering how to do this productively in such an anonymous space where investment in issues differs so much, the guiding question that we took up throughout the course without arriving at a definitive answer.