Listening is key to understanding point of view

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“I don’t like poetry,” he said.

In a room full of writing teachers—at an AP training no less. I contradicted him. I cajoled him. I didn’t listen. And I really know better than to behave this way.

My instructor asked this teacher questions about what he did like. He liked classic poems. One teacher said, “You like formalist poetry.”

He didn’t like free verse and he really struggled with defining spoken word as poetry. With creative writing classes, I’ve taught a lot of spoken word.

AP Language teachers practice innovation at a recent training. (Contributed)

Ironically, just before this transaction, we were reviewing the skill of argumentation—and listening.

Argumentation is the writing that most students feel they’re prepared to tackle. However, when we say argumentation, are we thinking of the same skills? Students have plenty of experience persuading—trying to win privileges or an extra day to study for a test.

True argumentation is more than persuasion. In fact, the skill of argumentation involves listening, debate and an open mind. Teaching the skill of argumentation is especially challenging when you’re teaching 16-year-olds because lack of experience makes following Atticus Finch’s advice “to climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it” even more difficult.

I was stunned by the rarity of an English teacher who didn’t like poetry; however, I can understand that spoken word poetry is an acquired taste for someone who has rarely encountered this genre.

“Dare to listen, dare to be quiet, dare to seek understanding; in the end, it’s the people we need to love, not their opinions,” is the closing call to action of, “How to Listen When You Disagree,” by Benjamin Mathes. Mathes is the founder of Urban Confessional: A Free Listening Movement. We read his essay in AP training.

“When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question: ‘Will you tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view,’” Mathes advises.

I look forward to another school year of listening to stories with an open mind and an open heart.