Topics for Liberal Education
Over many trials the topic material in the column to the right has proved helpful in small discussion groups. Each topic (amounting to four pages when printed in leaflet format—see the last line of this web page) begins with a “theme” question. (Note that because the function of the question is to generate interesting discussion, it may not be obviously related to the material which immediately follows.) The question is followed by approximately two pages of passages, usually one paragraph or longer. Then comes a heading which takes the form “Thoughts about . . .” with the topic filled in. This heading is followed by a selection of quotes and aphorisms, some of which may be indented. (The non-indented quotes and aphorisms are in alphabetical order.) Indented quotes should be regarded as loose commentaries which explain, enlarge, illustrate or contradict the preceding non-indented quote. In some of the topics, ten of the shorter and more discussable quotes are marked with asterisks—however, the asterisks are being phased out. Here are some suggestions for using the topic material for educational purposes:
1) The teacher/user is completely within his rights to delete anything he dislikes and add whatever suits him. After editing it to his or her satisfaction, the teacher prints out the material for a topic in leaflet format (see downloading and printing instructions at the bottom of this webpage). A leaflet consists of one sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half to make a four page booklet. Each person in the discussion group should have a leaflet.
2) The ideal number of people in a discussion group is four. Three is also good. Five or more can work, but there is a tendency for distracting secondary conversations to break out.
3) One member of the group should act as facilitator. The facilitator should begin by reading the “theme” question at the top of page one and asking each person for an instinctive preliminary answer. In theory, discussion of anyone’s answer is not allowed at this point. In practice, it will be found to be very difficult to a) get a short premliminary reply from everyone, and b) prevent responses to those preliminary replies. The facilitator must be as firm as possible without giving offense. It may help to remind everyone that they will get a chance to revise their answer after the material in the leaflet has been discussed.
4) The facilitator will then pass out the leaflets and ask everyone to take a few minutes to find one or two quotes that they want to express an opinion about, preferably a strong opinion. If they can’t find anything that they feel strongly about, then they can quote themselves.
5) The first person to express an opinion about his or her chosen quote is the one who starts the discussion. He or she reads the quote, indentifies the author (if attributed), and then gives it (verbally, with a gesture, or both) a “thumbs up” which means “I like it,” a “thumbs down” which means “I don’t like it,” or a “thumbs sideways” meaning “I’m ambivalent about it.” The speaker should then try to explain and justify his or her opinion. Although listeners are usually not timid about voicing their opinions, it is the facilitator’s job to get a variety of reactions to what has been said.
6) The facilitator should try to get the speaker who chose the quote to pass judgement on it (as described above) before talking about it. We have found that people are often reluctant to state their position. By gently insisting that the speaker take a position, the facilitator somewhat reduces the tendency of some people to use the quote as a jumping off point to talk about whatever they want to talk about, however unrelated to the topic. Counter-acting this tendency leads to a more focused discussion.
7) When, in the facilitator’s opinion, the quote has been exhausted or the discussion has drifted too far from the topic, he or she asks the next person (clockwise, counter-clockwise, alphabetical, whatever) to read their quote, pass judgement, and defend their opinion.
8) The longer passages should not be neglected, and can be read whenever a person finds the discussion boring, or otherwise has an opportunity.
9) Near the end of the time allotted for discussion, the facilitator breaks in to read the theme question a second time. He or she then goes round the circle once again and tries to get everyone to give their “considered” opinion. The facilitator gives his or her opinion last and then tries to determine the majority opinion.
10) Discussion will always be more intelligent and more rewarding if the topic material is given some thought beforehand. When the topic is determined in advance and the topic material is available online (or as a handout), everyone should be encouraged to read and think about the ideas they will soon be discussing.
Eros I (the state of being in love) New Links (Mar 17, 20, 27, 30/13)
Faith I New Link (Feb 23/13)
Fanaticism & Enthusiasm New Link (Mar 18/13)
Miracles & Ghosts New Links (May 15/13)
Vulgarity & Bad Taste New Link (Mar 14/13)
War New Link (Mar 14/13)
Words & Language New Link (Feb 26/13)
PRINTING INSTRUCTIONS: The material for each of these topics can be downloaded from the bottom of the respective webpage as a WordPerfect (6.1) or as an MS Word (2002) document—note that there is insufficient space for page numbers in the MS Word document. The document is formatted as a four page leaflet, and if you have a duplex printer (i.e. a printer which prints both sides of the paper) the entire document should only require one sheet of paper. (To print the WordPerfect document from WordPerfect (6.1) as a leaflet on a duplex printer: FILE—>PRINT—>MULTIPLE PAGES (click radial button)—>OPTIONS—>BOOKLET PRINTING (check box)—>OK—>PRINT—>all—>PRINT. To print the MS Word document from MS Word (2002) as a leaflet on a duplex printer: FILE—>PRINT—>PROPERTIES—>FLIP ON SHORT EDGE (click radial button)—>OK—>OK.) By folding the sheet in half, a four page 5.5 inch x 8.5 inch leaflet is produced. Without a duplex printer producing a leaflet will be more complicated, and will require running the paper through the printer twice. If the WordPerfect file is opened in MS Word, the leaflet formatting will be lost and will have to be redone in Word. The tighter spacing between related paragraphs will also be lost, extending the length of the document. The text formatting, however, should be preserved. To see what a leaflet should look like, click Here (pages 1 & 4) and Here (pages 2 & 3) to view two PDF files for the topic of religion.