Commentary 4: Vico

Mistakes and Trying on Discourse

The part of this essay that struck a chord with me comes from page 19 where he says. “They would not feel the impulse to step rashly into discussions while they are still in the process of learning; nor would they, with pedestrian slavishness, refuse to accept any viewpoint unless it has been sanctioned by a teacher. In this sphere, the Ancients seem to me to be superior to us”.

At one time I think I would have strongly agreed with this, but working with Dr. Wittman on a few projects here at Stanislaus has changed my mind about that. For those of you who do not know, he had his 5020 class actually work on reports for the WASC review. That’s right: he had inexperienced students working on an actual WASC review. These students were not done with their masters degrees and some were only in their first semester. However, many of these projects turned out as thorough and complete as though professionals had done them. A group of students even won the research competition here at Stanislaus because of their work.

I interviewed many of these students and they all expressed how nervous and inexperienced and unqualified they felt doing this work. But by the end of the whole thing their work had rewarded them with the confidence to handle assessment in the future, a better understanding of what assessment means and is, and even a better idea of what they want to do in their future careers. Many made mistakes as they went, but they learned from those mistakes and they were better for it in the end. This is where I think Vico’s rationale is flawed: Yes, students need to study, listen to their teachers, and practice practice practice, however, they also need the chance to actually try on the discourse and make mistakes because mistakes are part of the learning process as well. Mistakes are very important to the learning process and teachers should let students make as many mistakes as they need to in the safety of a supportive academic environment before unleashing them into the real world where they will be unprotected. We have to remember that although we strive to be superhuman orators or rhetoricians that at the bottom of it all we are all just humans, and humans are imperfect creatures who learn and grow by making mistakes from time to time.

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