Perspectives and Peers 2, Books Assigned in Class

Note: This is a selection from Perspectives and Peers, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

On critical examination, the books assigned in class give a more mixed view on multiple perspectives and peer interaction than the class discussion. David Moshman (2005), as expected, comes out strongly for multiple perspectives in constructing rationality. Indeed, there is no way in his view to achieve rationality without multiple perspectives. Yet even Moshman qualifies his support for the need for equal peer interaction. The other readings, both of which were written for broad audiences, appear to be even less enthusiastic. Amin Maalouf (1993) frets about the irrational nature of peer interaction and the need to suppress multiple perspectives in some instances. Last, David Elkind (1998) sees a world fraught with parallel, where most positive and rational steps appear to be foreclosed.

Interestingly, David Moshman is skeptical of the benefits of peer interaction. Three stages are given in the book for the construction of rationality: reflection, coordination, and peer interaction. Yet the Moshman text presents the third, and the third alone, as optional. Consider the phrasings on page 43: “developing involves a process of reflection” then “development involves a process of coordination” then “development typically occurs in a context of peer interaction.” While Moshman does not dismiss peer interaction, he repeats his omission on pages 44-45 “Unless Nora and Simon reflect on and coordinate their viewpoints and thus construct a metaperspective, they are still functioning at their original level of rationality.” Note that interaction with each other may occur in this scenario, but would not have to. As he later says, “social interaction is a context” (45).

Intertwined with his discussion of peer interaction, Moshman emphasizes the importance of multiple perspectives. The terms “reflection” and “coordination,” touched on above, have no meaning whatsoever except with multiple perspectives. On page 43, Moshman gives “not just learning more about what is in the room but reflection on a perspective she already had” as an example of reflection, and “improving her understanding of the interrelations of multiple perspectives” for “coordination” on the same page.

Amin Maalouf, the Franco-Lebanese intellectual, qualifies the help of peers in building rationality. Indeed, to him peers are destructive to rationality. As he says on page 21, “[t]he emotions of fear or insecurity don’t always obey rational considerations. They may be exaggerated or even paranoid, but once a whole population is afraid, we are dealing with the reality of the fear rather than the reality of the threat.” In other words, emotions become irrational once one’s peers get involved. Perhaps rationality, to Maalouf, is more typical of a traditional student than an interacting peer. The only other use of the word “rational” in the text occurs on page 113, where he wonders what a “rational observer” might make of something (and thus, one who is observing, and not one who is a peer interacting rationally).

Maalouf also has an interesting take on multiple perspectives. Unlike other readings, he appears to see it as the product of rationality, not the building block. On page 5, “if they themselves cannot sustain their multiple allegiances… then all of us have reason to be uneasy about the way the world is going.” Elsewhere in Maalouf’s book, multiple perspectives are seen apart from rationality, as when he notes that if “our contemporaries are not encouraged to accept their multiple affiliations and allegiances; if they cannot reconcile their need for identity with an open and unprejudiced.. then we shall be bringing into being legions of the lost and hordes of bloodthirsty men” (35). Likewise, he displays little patience with multiple perspectives he disagrees with, saying that in at least one “area, we should tend to universality, and even, if necessary, uniformity, …” (106-107).

“Multiple allegiances” are not quite the same thing as multiple perspectives, but the relationship between the concepts is clear. By carrying multiple allegiances, a person has the ability to view subjects from multiple perspectives. Maalouf’s skepticism of view that mutliple allegiances are a consequence of rationality, and not a cause, thus make it valid to read his work as arguing that multiple perspectives to Maalouf are also a consequence or rational thought and not a cause.

In contrast to the other books in this class, David Elkind’s perspective is mostly negative. While Maalouf looks at the material we covered in class from a political or globalized perspective, and Moshman from an academic educational psychological perspective, Elkind sees the world through lenses of decline. Effective teaching with peer interaction and multiple perspectives simply is not an option, here, because teachers “with large classes, burdened with endless bureaucratic busywork, often lose enthusiasm for the subject they love and have little time for mentoring” (17). Parents as well are unable to provide either because (in Elkind’s view) it is no longer possible to support the same lifestyle with the “shorter hours and with a single parent working” (243) as in the past. The only firm conclusion that can be reached is that peer interaction is probably harmful, because peers are correlated with “neediness” (205).

Perspectives and Peers, a tdaxp series:
Perspectives and Peers 1. Introduction
Perspectives and Peers 2. Books Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 3. Articles Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 4. Other Articles
Perspectives and Peers 5. Interview with the Subject
Perspectives and Peers 6. Conclusion
Perspectives and Peers 7. Bibliography
Perspectives and Peers 8. Interview with Mark Safranski