The One-Room School

Snooty Elitist Kristine doesn’t think I should be writing this post, because I haven’t read enough books. I’m going to write it anyway.

Over at By Commoner Contempt, Kristine suggests that people need to shut up and stop blogging until they’ve read a few books. She writes,

You young whippersnappers need to stop reading blogs and read some books. Seriously. It’s fine to have an opinion, but you should probably keep it to yourself unless it is at least a minimally informed opinion. Here’s your summer reading list–what I consider the absolute minimum preparation for reasonably well-informed discussion of Mormonism. Don’t talk on blogs until you’ve finished it.

This suggestion drew the wrath of various commenters, including fmhLisa. Lisa laments that her X key is missing, and that,

While I would never dream to write many of the deep and important and footnoted posts many of you all do so beautifully, I still feel like the process of blogging has been an important education for me, and that I’ve had valuable things to contribute, despite my (vast and limitless) ignorance.

I’m sure I would be a better blogger after having read more, but I’m a slow reader, and I have a very full life and these books represent years of reading yet to come. (and with so many other good options too) And also, I know how self-conscious and painfully e-posed I feel in my ignorance in your midst, there are so many topics that I feel unworthy to comment on, and embarrassed to ask questions about, or that I just don’t understand at all.

So, who is right –Kristine or Lisa?

They both are.

Kristine is right that a lot of blogging is ignorance-generated noise. A lot of comments simply reflect lack of knowledge. For example, on essentially Every Single Thread About Polygamy to ever appear in the nacle, someone mentions polyandry. And at least half the time, some commenter suggests, wrongly, that Mormons never practiced polyandry.

Similarly, it seems like once every few months a Word of Wisdom conversation crops up, and commenters are always amazed to hear basic facts. (Joseph Smith drank wine. The modern view was not put in place until roughly the turn of the century.)

This kind of back-and-forth happens with a dozen other topics — Elijah Abel; justifications for polygamy; and so on.

Kristine is absolutely right that the number of “I didn’t know that” conversations would be drastically reduced if commenters actually went out and read a few basic sources. If everyone read Mormonism In Transition, no one would be shocked at Word of Wisdom changes.

Lisa is right, though, that blogging can serve valuable functions even without that degree of knowledge. In particular, blogging is a way to educate readers and commenters. When commenters make comments that show lack of knowledge on some topic, others can bring them up to speed.

Kristine might counter that this distracts from the main conversation. Indeed, it does. If conversants really want to talk about some issue in depth, it may be distracting to have to continually go over basic points from Mormonism in Transition.

But then, what exactly is the point of blogging? If I want to have an in-depth conversation about Heidegger or Commercial Law or peepstones, I can pick up the phone or the e-mail and talk to Nate or Jim or Stapley. Blogging is more interactive. Why talk about peepstones on a blog, rather than just in an e-mail to friends? Clearly, I’m seeking out others’ perspectives, and trying to engage in broader discussion.

If I want to limit the discussion to People Who Really Know Their [Redacted] About Heidegger, I can always do so via the magic of Gmail or Outlook Express. By putting it on a blog, though, I invite comment from others — even if they know less about Heidegger than me.

Blogging is a one-room classroom, then. Some readers are high-school students on a particular topic, and others are kindergarteners. The discussion is bound to be uneven. We’re all in the school together, though. And so we shouldn’t complain (too much) about our schoolmates. Of course we should all read more before we talk. Kristine’s list is a great starting point, and if everyone read it, the ensuing conversation would be great. But we’re human, busy, underread, and really, there’s room in this choir for all God’s critters. While some of us may be well-read on some topics, there’s always a topic we can learn more about, and always something more we can learn from our schoolmates.

Even if they don’t know who Heidegger is. And even if their keyboard is missing an X.

18 comments for “The One-Room School

  1. June 21, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    Wonderful post, Kaimi! Does this mean I have to stop being an intellectual elitist, though? Cause that would be sucky.

  2. Mark IV
    June 21, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    When commenters make comments that show lack of knowledge on some topic, others can bring them up to speed.

    You are right about that, Kaimi, and that is one of the best things about the ‘nacle. There really is an astonishing range of interests, accomplishments, and life experience on display, and I think it is to everybody’s credit that our interactions are as decent and civil as they are.

    But what about when somebody doesn’t want to be brought up to speed? It is pretty embarassing to cling to a position for a few hundred comments, then re-read the thread a few weeks later and realize that the facts were against you. Ask me how I know this.

  3. m&m
    June 21, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    Nice post, Kaimi.

  4. Adam Greenwood
    June 21, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    So, who is right –Kristine or Lisa?

    They both are.

    What I hate about the bloggernacle is how quick to take sides everyone is. What price the attempt to placate everyone?

  5. DKL
    June 22, 2007 at 12:02 am

    All you need to know about Heidegger is this: Those who follow or respond to him credit themselves with adopting a more humane approach to knowledge, and feel that positivism and empiricism de-humanize. But when the Nazi’s took over Germany, it was the positivists who left in protest, and Heidegger who joined the Nazi party. Not that Heidegger was a Nazi. He was never a Nazi. He was a just prostitute. But so much for “a more humane approach” to philosophy.

  6. mlu
    June 22, 2007 at 12:18 am

    I don’t know whether I’ve ever met an intellectual elitist Mormon in real life, though I’ve known lots of cowboys and dairy farmers. Except for an occasional trip to Mormon country where there were actual Desert Book stores, I haven’t come across many books about Mormonism, and they have never been referenced in the world I move in. As far as scholarly works on the faith, I haven’t read many.

    I went through period where I read all the Nibley books that FARMS has put out (these were carried in the Deseret Bookstores) and was astonished to find a Mormon writer going for a bit more depth than the Sunday School sermonettes (though I find those profound in other ways, and probaby have learned the most important things from them).

    The Internet and Amazon have made life more rich, though I have far less time for reading outside my professional concerns these days. I wasted my youth on Wallace Stevens and Wordsworth and all that.

    The bloggernacle has startled me with its revelation of how little I know. Which is a good thing, and mostly fun. It’s a great form of rural outreach. People’s discussions about titles and their recommendations have been enormously helpful, so that I’ve spent my limited time reading better works.

    So in this little corner of the world, the bloggernacle has been helpful in pushing back ignorance a tiny bit and in helping with the task of getting the right books read.

    Good post.

  7. queuno
    June 22, 2007 at 12:21 am

    I see the Bloggernacle as being a more open version of Gospel Doctrine class — with the same ill-prepared comments. My only requirement for membership in a Gospel Doctrine class is … showing up.

  8. Peter LLC
    June 22, 2007 at 7:10 am

    Amen and amen.

  9. Y Stephenson
    June 22, 2007 at 10:45 am

    The problem with all this blogging is that one is tempted to fire off a response without really thinking it through. Which is what I am about to do. In Gospel Doctrine class there is at least a moderator i.e. teacher who hopefully knows her /his class well enough to know which persons to call on for a comment and which ones are going to say something completely off the wall. You might only need to show up to be a member of the class, but hopefully reading the lesson material from the actual text, that being the New Testement for 2007, if not mandetory then should be at least semi-obligatory if one expects to make a meaningful contriubtion.

  10. CS Eric
    June 22, 2007 at 11:43 am

    The Bloggernacle has a more subtle way to moderate off the wall comments–commenters who follow the irrelevant or off track comments simply ignore those comments and continue on with their discussion as though those comments were not even there. Some commenters almost always get a response, some commenters almost never get a response.

    Also, what constitutes a “meaningful contribution” is often in the eye of the beholder. What I think is a brilliant insight may be so off the mark that other commenters either ignore it, or only respond to correct me.

  11. June 22, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    “So, who is right –Kristine or Lisa?”

    Kristine… ;->

  12. Matt Evans
    June 22, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Where Kristine’s argument fell apart for me was in her assumption that bloggernacle topics are usually fact-heavy, when it seems to me that very few of our conversations actually require a specific knowledge base. And besides, most people who don’t know what they’re talking about know to stay quiet. Someday I might join them.

  13. paul f
    June 22, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    it seems that j. nelson-seawright’s comments seem apropos here. could it be that the act of being too well read and too focused on one subject skews the ‘expert’ in her ability to discern the whole picture. allowing all to comment allows a broader understanding of the issue–possibly a more correct answer by the nature of the law of averages.

    the attitude displayed by assuming a superior understanding of spiritual questions for having read historical treatments of a topic by several university professors is disconcerting. such a person’s knowledge base may be greater, but there is no assurance (perhaps no correlation?) with the level of their true understanding.

  14. jjohnsen
    June 22, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    queuno hit the nail on the head. Except at the bloggernacle Sunday School class people are able to bring up certain subjects without being ostracized.

  15. KyleM
    June 22, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    13. It would seem this post would somewhat apply to your comment. The bloggernacle community isn’t as large as the general church population, but the bloggers aren’t apostles.

  16. Y Stephenson
    June 22, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    Wow, The Wisdom of Crowds would agree that the more people you ask about how many jelly beans are in a bottle the closer you will come to the correct answser upon averaging the numbers given by the group. On the other hand in areas where one is not dealing with pure conjecture someone with some knowledge is actualy better able to come up with an accurate answer to whatever it is one is trying to solve. Some things just aren’t a matter of opinion. So, what date was the Word of Wisdom accepted as a comandment and when did it become a part of the temple recommend interview? (I may not know that right off, but I do know where to look it up.) A poll of a knowledgeable group would come closer to the actual facts than a poll of the less knowledgable. On the other hand I find that the more I read the scriptures the less I feel inclined to read inspirational works and commentaries. But, whatever insights I might gain are often more for my personal edification than they are for sharing. If someones opinion (whoever he may be or whatever position he may hold) does not agree with the scriptures I don’t have to internalize what they say. So who is right, I would have to say neither.

  17. June 23, 2007 at 1:06 am

    Lisa is right, of course. But mostly because if Kristine were right I wouldn’t be able to blog for a very long time. With a 2.5yo and a 1yo reading (and writing) blog posts is doable, but reading large scholarly volumes is not (at least for me).

  18. Lupita
    June 23, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Yeah, I think both are right. I think that Kristine and Lisa both have entirely different voices and yet I appreciate their different commentary styles. The blogging world is attractive to me because of the diversity, including the savants, the nuts and the obvious ignoramuses who won’t back down after being confronted with cold, hard facts. So what if the choir sometimes goes off-key? It’s still music.

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