Column by Robert Valentine, senior lecturer of advertising
As all of us are, I am exposed to a great deal of personal opinion.
It makes me sad.
I’m not talking about the sprinkling of opinion I get from my spouse of many years. She is a wise person whose opinion is always worth hearing regardless of my own ideas on whatever the subject may be. (Please tell her I said that.)
And I’m not talking about the tidal waves of opinion we now receive in the place of so-called “news.” I suppose the news has always been colored with the pastel touch of personal opinion from the editor or network boss down the to reporter or news anchor.
Today, however, we get the broad strokes in primary enamel in stark blacks and whites of outright prejudice. Whole panels of talking heads shout over one another to agree among themselves without a single reference to fact or empirical observation. Pure – and often baseless – opinion on the hoof.
However, I get even more opinion than most folks because I ask for it. I solicit opinions when I assign a short paper (or a long one) as a means of encouraging college students to crystallize what they know about the subject under discussion. I think it’s a good idea for us to stop in the midst of memorizing dates, names, formulae and lists of components to consider what it all means.
Sadly, I’m not looking for what most people think of as “opinion.” Neither are most of the instructors, lecturers, and professors on campus. That’s because most of the opinions written and received, whether on paper on in pixels, are expressions of feelings and guesses with which the student arrived on campus months or years ago. Those are called “uninformed opinions,” and they are worth very little to anyone but least of all to the student.
That’s right: although you thought this would be an easy paper because the nice lady just asked for your “opinion” on the subject, you lose. Even if you get an “A” because it was on time, on subject and used real capital letters and standard punctuation, you lose.
You lose because you missed the chance to put forth the effort to learn something new. Listening to nice people chat to you about chemistry or European history may be pleasant and informative, but reading from a textbook or assigned article is where the brain really grows. All of the nice people will tell you so.
I see legions of people trudging across campus with what seems to be the sum of their worldly possessions on their backs in stylish knapsacks. There could be books in there somewhere. In any case, many of them are probably in pristine condition. That’s sad, too.
Books are for underlining, and their page margins are meant to be filled with question marks and corrections based on what the nice people tell you in those 50-minute chats you have every couple of days. Books are tools for improving your opinion by giving it a foundation – not sacred relics to be preserved until sold back without a mark on ‘em.
Reading is not a penance for having chosen college over a career in fast food service; it is not a punishment for having checked your Facebook page during a lecture. (That will come when you take a test).
Reading the suggested material before the lecture of the same name gives you better understanding. Your life at college becomes less difficult and more valuable. That’s why they do it this way. It takes less time than the all-night cram that will otherwise precede the exam and makes your tuition payment a valuable investment instead of a painful debt. There are studies that prove it: you could look ‘em up.
Anyway, that’s my opinion. You’re entitled to one, too, informed or otherwise.