Teaching Attitudes Become Lecture’s Task
TEACHING ATTITUDES BECOME LECTURE’S TASK
There is a fundamental difficulty in the teaching of attitudes, which does not arise in the teaching of information and which as a consequence normally demands a different approach. Factual information is usually absorbed following some kind of presentation, but attitudes are not something external to the student; they are based on emotions and therefore cannot be absorbed from outside. They are predispositions for dealing with information that is presented; they cannot, themselves, be presented by a lecturer. They are a kin of internal coding system. Thus a change in attitudes must originate from the student. In this sense, attitudes cannot be taught; it is the teacher’s task to engineer the situation so that the students will acquire or change them for themselves. Information alone is not likely to change attitudes. The lecturer must appeal to some emotion the students already possess.1)
1. Acquisition of Attitudes
Engineering this situation commonly has two stages. The teacher may first make the student aware of a need and then provide the means of satisfying it. This pattern is familiar in advertising, except that the lecturer’s audience is often captive while an advertisement must first attract attention. This latter feat is frequently achieved by means of some device quite irrelevant to the product, but thereafter the pattern is recognizable. Motives such as maternal affection, social status, and sexual attraction are aroused, and a product is offered that may satisfy them.
This process may be thought of as objectionable in the educational field, although it is a nomal feature of human conversation. But it seems to me to be acceptable provided it is not coupled with deliberately restricted information. It is the restriction of information that is antithetical to education, not the appeal to students’ motives. To teach students to seek information and to teach them to express opinions are important educational objectives. Thus at the beginning of a lecture in medicine or education the lecturer may point aout the needs of the patient or child to arouse certain motives in the student. Attitudes may be formed when these motives are associated with the information and techniques taught.
2. Change of Attitudes
Attitudes may be change if they are inadequate to deal with information presented. The inadequacy may be of three kinds:
a. Change Resulting from Inadequate Information
The students may have no relevant attitude or system for coding presented information. If they have never read any of Sartre’s plays and know little or nothing about them from other sources, they will look for any attitude that makes sense of the new information. This may be, say, irrelevant prejudice against the French, or irrational respect for the lecturer. Students are likely to agree with their friends or people they admire even though the source of their admiration and friendship may be quite irrelevant to the issue for agreement.2 The ignorant are more suggestible than the knowledgeable.
b. Change Resulting from Conflicting Information
If new information cannot be reconciled to two attitudes, a person may change one or both. For example, if a student holds favorable attitudes toward labor unions and the Republican party but is told that many people in the Republican party support what he believes to be antiunion legislation, his favcorable attitudes toward one or both may change. Complete rejection of a previous attitude is unlikely. The student is likely to take up an in-between position, which may be nearer the unions or the Republican party according to the relative strengths of his previous attitudes; he may attach reservations to these principles, or establish a higher-order principle to deal wih the conflict. Thus attitudes may develop and become more complex by successive modification. It is this process for which free-group discussions are particularly suitable.3
Because it is difficult for people to face up to conflicts in their own ideas, it is necessary in the lecture situation (where individuals do not have to explain their inconcistencies) to state issues very clearly so that they cannot easily be repressed. Yet, if the clarification is achieved by oversimplification, the students’ reconciliation of attitudes may easly be naïve. The consequent need for both clarity and detail makes it very difficult to achieve a change of students’ attitudes by lecturing.
This second situation –change resulting from conflicting information- is more common in student learning and everyday life; but the first –change from inadequate information- has particular importance here, both because students are constantly having to cope with new areas of knowledge and because lectures are essentially situations in which information is presented.
c. Change Resulting from Threatening Information
The effects of threatening presentations are ambigious. The information that smoking will result in a slow and lingering death has had remarkably little effect upon people from all walks of life and all levels of intelligence. The consequence is delayed. The threat of one or ten years’ imprisonment will make little difference to the incidence of crime. The consequence is delayed and uncertain. In a now-classic experiment, three groups of students heard lectures varying in accounts of the dire consequences of dental neglect and what they should do to prevent it. Those who heard the most severe lecture expressed most anxiety immediately afterwards but took least remedial action later. Those with the least threat acted upon it most.4
It seems that severe threats do not bear contemplation. We put up defenses to prevent being disturbed by the message. However, there is reason to believe that strong appeals will have an effect if they threaten our loved ones if the topics are relatively unfamiliar, if the individuals have high self-esteem or low vulnerability, and if the source is credible.
1 A. Bligh, Donald, 2000, “What’s The Use of Lectures”, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, page:239-242.
2 Tannenbaum, P.H., 1953, “Attitudes Toward Source and Concept as Factors in Attitude Change Through Communication”, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of
3 Barnett, S.A., P.H., 1958, “An Experiment with Free Discussion Groups”, UniversititiesQuarterly, 12, page:175-180.
4 Janis, I.L., and Feshbach, S., 1953, “Effects of Fear-Arousing Communications”, Journal ofAbnormal and Social Psychology, 48, page:78-92.