11 November 2008

On a threshold concept again

In today's Guardian Education section, Jonathan Wolff has an interesting piece on whether or not academics can or do indoctrinate their students. However, it particularly includes this point;

... the response students have to radical or challenging ideas ... depends almost entirely on where they start from. Take, for example, an idea that comes up when I teach Marx's Early Writings: that, contrary to the Christian teaching that God made man in God's image, man made God in man's image. And that's why our paintings of God show him in human form.

For some students, this thought is as close as they will ever get to a revelation. It puts into words something they have been struggling with, crystallising a thought, or at least a doubt, that has been festering in their subconscious. ... So, confrontation with radical ideas can be eye-opening - but only to those who were already hoping to open their eyes.

Other students - those who are fairly firm in their religious beliefs - will be charmed or appalled by what they think to be the naivety or superficiality of Marx's argument. Some will say, in a rather patronising tone, that they find his ideas interesting. Others feel angry, or almost frightened, when confronted with something so challenging. But I haven't come across a student who has said they have changed their religious convictions on reading Marx's texts. And why should their political convictions change either?

A great example of a threshold concept and liminal reactions to it. If you are not familiar with the idea, there are some links here. What is more, it is a threshold which is more about the affective than the technically cognitive component of learning, as Peter Hadfield, Renee Meyers and I discussed in a paper which still up for discussion here. Comments welcome!

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