Front Page Forums Chapter 04 Forum Person vs. Idea

This topic contains 4 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Lindsey Herlehy 5 months ago.

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  • #4770 Reply

    Lindsey Herlehy


    This. Book. Rocks. My colleague and I are actively engaged in our first book study and your work has given us loads and loads of “math for thought”.

    This week, while reading Chapters 4 and 5, we stumbled upon an interesting question. In our roles as curriculum writers, we have recently been emphasizing the value in “constructive argumentation”. The activities that we have been creating require students to create explanations, use justification, and consider the viewpoints as others. Coaching teachers and students to understand this process can be tricky.

    One concept that we have been emphasizing during these activities the importance of disagreeing with the IDEA, and not the PERSON. For example, we have made student cards titled, “Appropriate Ways to Disagree”, which includes argumentation sentence stems. Students use this tool during discussions.

    Examples of these sentence stems include:

    – I understand that idea, but i think we should consider…

    – I disagree with the idea that ____, and think we should consider ___, because ___

    – I’m not confident with this idea, is there another way to solve the problem?


    However, in the book, there are (absolutely wonderful) examples of agreeing/disagreeing with the PERSON and not the IDEA. Example (pg. 71): “So, are you agreeing with Mabel, or are you disagreeing with Mabel?”


    What is your take on disagreeing with the PERSON/IDEA? What is the different, and if there is one, is it worth emphasizing with our students?

    We look forward to your response. 🙂

  • #4771 Reply

    Dave Johnston

    That’s certainly something to think about. We want to establish a classroom culture that encourages positive discourse – which should include disagreements.

    Professionally, one of my team’s norms states that once an idea is shared, it belongs to the group, not the person. This allows us to discuss it openly and spare each other’s feelings. (It’s not perfect, but the idea helps us keep perspective.)

    In the classroom, I often try to engage students by referring to their contributions as “Kaylee’s solution” or “Ben’s idea,” but you have me thinking I may need to balance that. As I reflect, I would give that kind of acknowledgement to ideas I valued, and mistakes that I wanted to discuss became “an idea from somewhere on that side of the room,” or even the lie: “a student in one of my morning classes, says…” I’m also thinking of how many student’s never got their name spoken in that manner (and Jennifer Gonzalez’s “Fisheye Syndrome”).

    I think it might be easier for students to support (and abandon!) ideas with descriptive names such as the “balancing numbers idea” instead of “Dave’s idea.”

    You’ve raised a great question. I’m going to go do some reading and keep thinking.

  • #4772 Reply

    chase orton

    A wise colleague whom I respected much once told me, “Chase, you can be hard on the idea, but be soft on the person.” He also told me once, “You missed a good opportunity to be quiet.”

    I’m not sure which is most relevant here. I hoping the former, not the latter.

  • #4776 Reply



    I love this question so much. I actually loved it enough to put it on twitter and see what kind of thoughts we might get over a few days. Check it out:

    There’s a lot of interesting input there.

    So, where do I stand? Hmm. I see the danger of over-identifying a student with an idea, as Michael described with Kat’s idea. I’ve gone too far down that road myself.

    I also share your concern about how to be respectful when disagreeing. Absolutely. But I don’t think I share the worry about disagreeing with a person vs. an idea.

    In our society, we have a massive problem, which is that people don’t know how to disagree amicably. I find myself suspicious of the idea that the solution to that problem is to somehow stop disagreeing with people, and instead disagree with their disembodied ideas. It feels like avoiding a problem, rather than solving it. To me, dissociating the idea from the person feels like sweeping something important under the rug, rather than dealing with it directly. And it impinges on ownership, too.

    I think we have to teach students how to disagree with one another fully–even passionately–and still respect each other. Still be friends. Still go play at recess. I actually want explicit instruction in that.

    When I think about our kids arriving in adult society, they’ll need to be able to disagree with other people. If you’re writing an academic paper and you disagree, you cite the name. And then you see each other at conferences and are professional and have a respectful discussion. If you’re running for office or trying to legislate, you say, “I agree with my opponent that it’s important to….but I disagree with my opponent about how to…” And then, at the end of the debate or floor session, you shake hands. Maybe even get a beer together.

    I think I’d rather talk about why we assume disagreeing with a person is insulting, or personal? What’s there to unpack?

    When you get to CH 12, on page 333, there’s a quote about this from Ian Stewart that I love so much. He makes the case that disagreeing and arguing are part of math, and that’s a good thing. Take a peek. The internal logic of math makes disagreements resolvable, which is refreshing, and good practice. I mean, in the rest of life, lots of disagreements are about opinions, where there’s no real evidence who is “right.” Much harder.

    For example, my husband and I disagree on a lot of music. He likes these white hair bands from the 80s. I was a teenager in the 80s. Hated those bands then, hate those bands now. I spent those years listening to Prince instead! Still do. And yet we’re married. Whoever’s doing the dishes gets to pick the music. We don’t need to agree or come to consensus on everything. In fact, our different outlooks and opinions add some spice. What we do need to do, though, is disagree respectfully and not tear each other down.

    In those scenarios you describe, i.e., “Are you disagreeing with Mabel?” the kids were totally able to handle disagreement without taking it personally. I think Soledad described what that feels like really well in the risk-taking chapter. I want that for kids.

    And I even wonder if there’s a gender component? In my experience, girls have a harder time disagreeing because they are afraid of being threatening or seeming like they’re attacking. Think about, “No offense, but…” or “Sorry, but…” or “I could be totally wrong, but…” or “I’m not sure, but…” There are exceptions, of course, but most girls don’t feel entitled to state what they think without disclaimers and qualifiers that soften the message. They want to be “nice” about it. Women do this all the time in the workplace. We’re boxed in by it. I want my own daughters to be able to say, “I disagree with you and here’s why.” Not yelling, not attacking, not insulting, but disagreeing, with reasons. And eye contact. Person to person. That’s not an ad hominem attack. It’s just a disagreement. I don’t think it’s something to fear.

    I also want my daughters to be able to hear a counter-argument and say, “You’ve laid out a good argument. I think I might be changing my mind.” I am trying to teach them how to revise their thinking, publicly, and acknowledge a good reason when they hear one.

    In such a politically polarized country, I think we need more explicit instruction about how to disagree both with our neighbors AND with the more general ideas they espouse, and still have our kids play together. I have to think that’s possible. I mean, if that’s not possible, we’re screwed.

    tl;dr: I think disagreeing with one another is fine, but, as always, the real issue is HOW. How do we disagree respectfully? How do we teach that?

    Thanks for the great question and sorry for the rambling answer! I’m obviously still thinking!

    • This reply was modified 5 months, 1 week ago by  tzager.
  • #4787 Reply

    Lindsey Herlehy


    WONDERFUL response. So much for my colleague and I to think about. We’re going to take a day or two to digest your thoughts and those submitted in the forum and on Twitter.

    Since this seems to be a topic of interest for many, I thought I’d share the collaboration card that I’ve designed for our teachers. We traditionally use them at the middle school level – a Semester I card and Semester II card. I’ll post them on Twitter.

    While I want to come back and contribute more to this thought, my quick response focuses on the beginning task of just having students communicate ideas. In my experience, it’s a skill that has to be encouraged in our youngest and middle-school aged students…especially in the area of mathematics! Perhaps that’s why I was distinguishing between PERSON vs. IDEA. Also, I question the maturity level of students to be able to disagree with a person’s idea (with contribution to the person)? Thinking aloud.

    Please hold.




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