Your Norms

Most students don’t need a statement like this.  Some do, so let’s get it over with.  In this course, we study literatures and systems of thought from cultures not only of our own time, but of ages before you were born.  Their world is not ours.  Their beliefs may not be yours.  No one asks you to believe or endorse any premise, attitude, precept, theology, philosophy, ideology, or political system contained in these books or expressed in class, whether by me or by another student.  Nor will you ever lose points or be docked grades because of an opinion you express courteously by giving reasons for what you think.

We will not malign or trivialize these texts or views if they do not always parrot the beliefs common in our own day.  We will not take for granted that these books are bigoted because of the views they express, the period in which they were written, or the race, class, sex, or religion of the authors.  We will not censor the rationally presented arguments or the courteously expressed words of others, and we will not call names.  The accusation of bigotry can all too easily be bigoted; the accusation of intolerance can all too easily be intolerant.

Except for the norms of clarity, decency, and good grammar, we will not insist that others tailor their language or attitudes to our preferences.  For example, we will not indulge in obscenity -- but on the other hand, we will not quarrel about whether to use traditional pronouns like “he” and “she.”


I do not expect you to police other people’s language.

I do not expect you to call names.

I do not expect you to speak discourteously.

I do not expect you to demand that your opinions be accepted without your giving reasons for them.

I do not expect disagreement with each other, with the authors, or with me to make you so angry that you cannot follow these norms.

All clear?  Good.  Glad that’s over with.