The Top Ten

Every semester I ask most of my classes to reflect on the past term and identify the Top Ten things they learned for the semester. I ask them to select a concept or idea learned, who was responsible for it, a short definition and why they selected it.

I would like to share with you a few of the comments I recently received from a couple of classes. Why do I share these?

First off, I do NOT share these with you to in any way make myself look good or be at all self-congratulatory. In fact, I am not naïve enough to believe that my manner of conducting a class works for all students…it most definitely does not. Therefore, for as many who take to my style while bringing out the best in them, I am certain there are a number of students whom I hinder in equal proportion…albeit unintentionally with a constant earnestness to continually minimize this, perhaps inevitable, number.

I do share these with you as a result of our current political climate and the great need for sane, productive, reasoned and open minded dialogue. All college classrooms should be providing such a place–a place, by the way, where it should be happening–not through the safety of social media where it is easy to muster up courage to espouse an idea, an idea that largely goes unchallenged, or a bullhorn, which produces not a collection of reasoning individuals, rather a meandering mob.

So I was delighted when a student responded with the following:

Discussion can be civil and not get nasty. This class was so diverse in culture and politics, that I thought it was going to be a tough class to be in. It was nice to be able to have civil conversations even though we disagreed on a lot of stuff. I think having our comfort level pushed has really made me a more understanding person

Ahhhhh, such music to my ears.  Others produced similar sentiments:

That we can all get along. I learned that there are others like me who can disagree but get along. The whole class showed this to me. It was important to me because at times I feel kinda hopeless because it seems that people cannot coincide with so many different views, in current times.

So true.

The next response comes from student who, earlier in the semester, was visibly upset over a very conservative student’s remarks in the classroom. When I asked her if she spoke with him about it she essentially said it would be a waste of her time as he does not listen.

“Do you listen to him? I mean REALLY listen?” I asked her.

She confessed she does not. Therefore, it was no surprise that one of her Top Ten final responses was the following:

Hearing people out.  It’s important to listen to others even if their view is different from our own. Be open minded. If you expect others to listen to you, you need to do the same. Otherwise people just butt heads.

My students know full well that argument is a wonderful, welcomed and anticipated activity in my classroom –as arguing does not mean fighting, rather it means sharing with others with an anticipation of finding some common ground while proactively practicing some good, old fashioned give-and-take.

It’s okay to argue. This class revolved around arguing that was mature and mostly meaningful. Give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share ones view. Argument can be used a good way as long as it has supporting experience, or evidence and is meaningful.

They get it! I love it.

This final comment comes from an older woman (yet still younger than myself!) who confessed her mind and world had been blown open by this course. Thus, I was pleased when she wrote:

The whole class is infinitely different in age, social class, stage of life and what they intended to get out of the class.  Through a series of exercises and much communication we really became a community of people trying to increase our communication skills.  Every person came from a different beginning and progressed to new levels of personal growth because of the relaxed and engaging atmosphere in the room. Any teacher can teach, some teachers can coach and few can create the perfect learning environment to have the students want to grow and change for personal gain.

Like I said, my style does obviously work for some and if we can create this environment in the classroom, is it too much to believe we can foster these environments elsewhere?

Perhaps I am blessed to have a flexible point of view, or that I love cognitive dissonance, or that I am more about process than I am result…but I can’t be the only one. Whatever your lot in life, I challenge each of you to be the spokesperson for sanity and reason while understanding that those who disagree with you are not demons; they are, well, others with a different understanding…and that is OK.

You might even make someone’s Top Ten one day.





  1. Love this!! I can 100% attest this is true. You create an environment that is inviting to all & requires everyone to think outside their bubble. Most are better people because of your classroom, so glad to see students continue to recognize that 😊

  2. This was awesome to read before I take your course later this month. Public speaking is one of my weaknesses. As an LVN of 8 years I have gotten better at talking to different people and going to interviews. But I feel like I need more practice because when I become an RN I plan to manage other employees and I have to be able to speak clear and effectively.

  3. I was so glad that I took this class. I was forced to listen to others views and it definitely has opened my eyes and taught me to be not only more open minded, but a better listener overall. Thank you the life lessons Jimmy. I appreciate you.

  4. I was under the impression that you far prioritized the effectiveness of giving a speech over facilitating debate. I do not want to make unfair assumptions, because I saw a very brief moment of your teaching style and that makes it difficult to determine the philosophy behind your teaching. Before I share what my personal experiences are, I just want to clarify do you prioritize teaching the techniques of public speaking, or do you see yourself as balanced in both encouraging debate and public speaking techniques?

    • It depends on the class…in Public Speaking it is the techniques; in Critical Thinking through Argumentation and Debate it is, well, obviously debate.

  5. From the beginning we have always been taught not to argue. Not to argue with our parents, friends, and defiantly not with our teachers. It has always been shown as a sign of disrespect. Now I’m not talking about the yelling and screaming type of arguing, the kind you do with your parents when you don’t get your way as a child. I am talking about the arguing you do when you have an opposing view from someone and you share both points of view and why you have that view point. Now a lot of people can not handle someone having an opposing view point from them, even adults. I remember I had a teacher in high school and I voiced my opposing opinion on the topic of discussion in the class and because it was different than the teachers she immediately shut it down. In another case, I shared a view point that not many other classmates shared and it started a classroom disagreement and again the teacher immediately shut it down. Now this goes back to the beginning when I stated that we were always taught not to argue with someone. Many teachers do not like discussing controversial topics in class because of all the different view points students have. I on the other hand think it is needed and I love being a part of it. I love when the whole class gets involved and shares there different sides. I enjoy hearing a person’s opposing side and where they draw that conclusion from, whether it’s from actual facts or just simply how they were raised. It really makes the class more personal and you gain a lot of knowledge about other people and their thought proccesses. One of my favorite things about the informative speeches we just presented was that many topics sparked a lot of conversation and I loved that. I really think it is important for more teachers to be less afraid of disagreements within the class and should rather embrace it and encourage it. I think it gives people a chance to open their minds to new ideas and I think that is important. As a student I would like to thank you professor for encouraging these arguments in the classroom.
    But since the extra credit is for arguing with you here is why I would disagree:
    Now liked I discussed in the earlier statement, we have always been taught that arguing was a form of disrespect. It was always frowned upon and if you argued with a parent it could cause you to get a spanking or time out. In my opinion I believe many teachers frown upon it during class time because it can cause tension in the teaching environment. In fact when I was in high school we did do a class discussion on evolution. The teacher had the room split between the people who believed in evolution on one side and people who believed in the bible on the other side. It was a two day in class discussion that was based off of a very controversial topic. There was one girl who believed in evolution and on the second day she did more research and brought in paper and really took the topic seriously. There was another girl that believed in the bible and Adam and Eve and these two ladies were very passionate about their view points. Well the girl that believed in evolution ended up getting into a physical altercation with the other young lady because of there opposing views. Because these topics can be so controversial I believe that is why teachers play the safe side when in comes to in class discussions. This even goes into friendships. Many times friendships end due to an argument, based of two people that have different points of view. Now this is important to me because it shows that many people do not take the time to understand someone else’s side, but instead thinks that there is only their side and that is it. I belive we are made to think that arguing is bad because it can cause alterations between people as well as ending many relationships.

    • As I stated in class, I probably have a different definition of “argue” than most. I would define it as the process of refining ideas, nothing more, nothing less. Thanks Savanna!

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