Saturday, November 06, 2010

Is everything just an “opinion”?

During the first week of a seminary class that I am teaching, one of my on-line students wrote the following in a class-required discussion board. The student’s grammar has been left as it was written:

“…there is no such thing as a good writer. There just isn't. Writing is all opinion based. If you say an essay,book, ect. was "bad" or "good" that's simply your opinion. There's no fact there. "Mark Twain was a good writer." is a statement many people would agree with but it's not true or false, it's just someones opinion of him. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to write an essay, book, poem, just simply ways that most people follow. I don't believe you can "learn to write better" because you can't be "bad" at writing in the first place.

I decided to write him back with the following post:

"*****, it’s good to have you in the class. I'll be praying for a job that you need.

Regarding your view on writing, I'm curious: Would you say everything is based on opinion? What I mean is, could it ever be said that Michelangelo was a good artist? That the sermon we just heard was good, as it was well-organized with good exegesis and delivery? That this particular Bible passage means one thing to me but it could mean something else to you? (i.e. homosexuality is moral for today, even if it wasn't at Sodom and Gomorrah)  In other words, is everything really left to personal opinion?

The reason I ask these questions is that I believe the postmodern worldview encouraged in today's culture is to leave everything up for grabs. Using the first question above, a person could say, "For you, Michelangelo is a good artist. In my opinion, he's not." But aren't there objective ways to determine good art from bad? Of course, not everything may mesh with my personal tastes. It's certainly legitimate to say, "Perhaps Michelangelo was a good artist, but personally, I don't like his art." But if you leave everything open to opinion, then there really are no absolutes. Everything really is left up to what you think, and by golly, while most art experts say Michelangelo was the stud, frankly, someone with no art experience could say he was terrible, and we're supposed to call both opinions equal? 

This would also be a problem in religion, for a person could say, "Christianity is true for you, but for me I'll stick to my Agnosticism because it's right for me." See, I believe Christianity cannot be true for one person but false for another. Either it is true (and Jesus really is who He said He was, having risen from the dead) or it's not true (and Jesus was the biggest deceiver this world has ever seen). Just as it's not left up to opinion whether or not someone is pregnant, so too either Jesus is the way, truth, and life, or He is not. There is no middle ground.

I disagree with the idea that there is no such thing as good writing. For example, there are objective standards that we can use to determine a good essay from bad, including the quality of grammar and spelling, thesis statement (clear, not too broad, not too narrow), topic sentences and organization, specific supporting details, etc. I believe it really is possible for me to say, this essay is an A and this other one is a D and not have it based on mere opinion.

Let me give a specific example about what I am saying. For eight years, twice a year, I got together with 50 other professors at Grossmont College and we graded freshmen essays that were written at the end of the year. It was a 6-hour grading affair. (Fun!) We anonymously graded all the essays in the first round, then went through them again in the second round, as each grader was only given papers he/she hadn't already graded. If an essay received two "P" grades, it passed. An essay that received two "F" grades failed. Those that received a P and an F would have a third reader. These "tweeners" were the toughest to grade, as it was very painful trying to determine the P from the F since my decision was final. These were definitely papers that could have been graded as high as B- or as low as an F, but probably were C and D in nature. Do you know the number of papers left for this third read? We had to grade fewer than 10% because the other 90% were clearly P or F. (Note: the second readers didn't know what the first reader's grade.) 

Anyway, I rattle on, but I just want you to know that I believe good writing is much more than opinion. The limitations of an on-line class are that we can't discuss in real time, or at least very easily. Feel free to disagree, but I just wanted to show you where I stand since I will be grading your papers in a standardized and, I believe, in a fair, way. 


Eric Johnson"


Blogger Weston Krogstadt said...

Hello, Mormons rule. Thank You.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Eric Johnson said...

Wow, Wes, that's an amazing comment. I'm completely convinced, with such great logic, just like you use on your blog site. I let you post on my blog. Why did you take my comments off of yours?

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Keev Allin said...

What in the world is Weston's point? If I'm "Rah, Rah!" enough, I don't have to use the intellect my creator gave me? It's been my experience that people that won't discuss anything are too lazy to think about anything either. That may sound callous, but hey, "Hello, Thinkers rule. Thank you."

11:53 AM  

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