Teaching the Kavanaugh Hearings

On Thursday, I decided not to teach my scheduled ethics class and, instead, put on the Kavanaugh hearings.  During a break, we had about 30 minutes to talk as a class about the students’ impressions which ranged from he is lying to she is lying and everything in between (including the interruptions by the Judge, mistakes made, etc.)   It was a really good session and I know the students were grateful to have the opportunity to talk.  So, in my ADR class on Tuesday,  I am going to return to this subject.  I feel like we have a responsibility to equip them with some tools to deal with and talk about this incredible moment in history.  And I’d love some advice!

So here is my classplan:  with all sorts of caveats on how hard this is and that none of us actually know what happened, I would start with the fact that ADR is supposed to teach us how to communicate.  And that we will often be negotiating with those with whom we completely disagree.  So these tools are crucial as we discuss this hearing and politics (and, in Wisconsin, I know my classes are not all of the same political persuasion.)

I am thinking that I would start with teaching a little on partisan perceptions and then how we find it very hard to search for non-conforming data.  They will already be in small teams  and I thought that I would ask each group to list the data on each side.  Then to chart that up on the board and talk about what would be the persuasive story that each side could tell.  And finally to teach the ladder of inference chart where data becomes reasoning becomes conclusion.

Anything that I am missing?  Tools you would add?  Thanks much for any help!

10 thoughts on “Teaching the Kavanaugh Hearings”

  1. Professor Schneider,
    After reading this article, and being in both of your LGL and ADR classes, I really appreciated the angle you took in discussing the Kavanaugh hearings. Showing us the information, but letting each and every person in the room decide for themselves on where they stood. Going into class in LGL that Thursday afternoon, I was pretty certain on where I stood. But after our class discussion, particularly that maybe both Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh had some truth in the matter, I left feeling a little more sympathetic to the other side. I feel that in my time in law school, the emphasis has been to make your strongest argument, but never to point out your argument’s biggest flaws or your opponent’s best argument. The exercise we participated in during ADR (drafting a list of why Kavanaugh is qualified v. why he is not qualified), really opened my eyes to how he has had decades of experience, and on paper is qualified for the job–it’s just a matter of whether someone’s personal life can taint their professional career. If I am being honest, I was disappointed with the outcome of the vote, but I left a little less angry than I would have without our class discussions. I am still upset about the social/gender dynamic in this country when it comes to listening to victims of sexual assaults, but I hope that Dr. Ford’s testimony was a step in the right direction, even though the outcome was not what we wanted. I think I will always remember watching the hearing–Dr. Ford’s statement, Kavanaugh’s questioning, and the backlash from it all–for years to come. Thank you for discussing such a hot-button issue in a way that led to open and honest discussion, I truly enjoyed both of those classes.

  2. To me it is all about psychology — psychology of perception (limited, as per Guthrie article), psychology of memory (very flawed – not at all like a video – and very malleable), psychology of ethics (we justify our lies very easily, e.g., when we think they are small and when we think the other side is doing bad stuff). Putting this in terms of “who is lying” is not the right frame, in my opinion. Most people have positive images of themselves and do not find it easy to see their own imperfections, whether of memory or action. Also could talk about learning from mistakes (importance thereof) and apology.

  3. I think this all sounds great, but partisan perceptions are only one part of the exercise. Let’s not forget that that the questioners are not acting as attorneys, but are acting as elected officials, each with his or her own agenda. Most questions are preceded by a speech, which was legislative “hearings” have become. I think a great comparison would be to have some of the students act as the remaining SC Justices, and ask the nominee questions in that role. The Justices have very different interests.

  4. If you could confidentially collect from students ahead of time where they are leaning with regard to the result of the confirmation vote, you could compose your small groups to be some purely pro Ford groups, some pro Kavanaugh groups, and some mixed or uncertain. That could make it even easier for them to adopt the assimilation bias we predict with partisan perceptions. And it might show something interesting about enclave deliberations vs integrated deliberations.

    1. They are already on diverse teams (I set up the whole class this semester using team-based learning) and so I want them to feel somewhat safe in a group that they have worked with. But I think that mentioning the difference in types of groups and types of deliberations will also be really helpful. Thanks!

  5. I wonder if you’d like your students to make note of when their own emotions come into play as they do these exercises. It may be interesting for them to be aware of those sensations, to see what prompts them, and to consider whether subtle emotions may influence their ability to hear others.

  6. I wonder if you’d like your students to make note of when their own emotions come into play as they do these exercises. It may be interesting for them to be aware of those sensations, to see what prompts them, and to consider whether subtle emotions may influence their ability to hear others.

  7. Two things might be good. First it might be good to have some discussion of how memory works. Second, there are some studies (Guthrie I believe) where students are assigned roles of Plaintiffs counsel and Defense counsel in a civil suit. The subjects are given the same fact scenario and both sides believe they have a 75% chance of winning the case.

    1. yes, they have already read the Guthrie work so I can remind them of that and we also did the cognition reflective test which showed them how intuitive thinking can screw you up–good idea to reference all of that–thanks!

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