"NOW, WHAT I WANT IS, FACTS." (MR GRADGRIND, OPENING DICKENS’S HARD TIMES, 1854)
Coventry University (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Conference name: 10th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 16-18 November, 2017
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:Gradgrind sees facts as the basis for avoiding “judgements based on unclear and indistinct ideas” (Popkin and Stroll, 1969). When constructing and using arguments in their dissertations, art and design undergraduates tend to confuse facts with supposition, sometimes deploying one to the exclusion of the other, sometimes deftly passing one off as the other. Much tutorial supervision focuses on avoiding supposition, but this can exclude the potential of such apparently unwise habits. Facts have graded truths and are open to debate – supposition can be defended. This paper argues that an overly binary stance is unwise.
The paper discusses a short, in-class project with a group of final-year art and design undergraduates studying for their dissertations. I showed them a 1.5-minute movie of a blitz chess game and asked them to write what happened, also in 1.5 minutes. The students had to write extremely fast, by hand, on whatever paper they had with them; the 44 submissions varied from between around 20-75 words. Most described events in standard past-tense fashion; one or two produced more clipped lists. I did not recommend or discuss any particular approaches because I wanted absolutely fresh writing. The point of this exercise was to find out what immediately meant the most to the students, and then to explore the extent to which this moved away from the facts as far as they could be ascertained - the evidence had to be taken at face value.
Some students made accurate observations, others included their own reactions (facts); some blended fact with supposition (the winner was a “champion”); some made less apparently defensible suppositions, others made factual errors. However, this writing should not be seen as finite: the suppositions could be defended. Even if such defence were disingenuous, the time constraint mitigates. This allowed room for manoeuvre, overlapping fact and supposition. The short texts became the subject of subsequent analysis, and helped students to begin to clarify what was admissible in their dissertations, the extent to which it was admissible and the different measures of such admissibility. The project’s format and post-writing discussions were useful because they showed how pliant an argument’s constitution and agency can be.
Keywords: Fact, supposition, argument, pliant.