By: Bailey Hendricks, Associate News Editor
Former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich urged students in professor Richard Vatz’s persuasion class on Oct. 10 to think critically about the words and phrases that they use during discussions and arguments with a debate opponent, coworker, peer or spouse.
“Basically, the bottom line of what I said is when terms and phrases are thrown around, I want young people to focus on what that phrase or term means to them,” Ehrlich said. “That’s what this class is about. Actually, that’s the definition of this class.”
During his talk, Ehrlich first asked the class to define terms such as “social justice,” “diversity,” and “fake news.”
Various students gave their own definitions of each of the words and phrases Ehrlich presented.
Ehrlich told the students that the words and phrases are what they think they mean, but that they first have to know what they think they mean.
In discussing diversity, Ehrlich asked the class if the term is a good thing.
He argued that it’s just a concept and not necessarily either a good or a bad thing.
Ehrlich further explained by posing the question – if you have a diverse football team and they never win, is that a good thing?
Ehrlich presented the class with different popular political debate questions such as whether or not they were “pro-gun,” “pro-choice,” and if they favored “open borders” or not.
When asked by Ehrlich, students raised their hands to whether or not they were in favor of these different controversial debate topics.
But Ehrlich asked the class how they could answer his questions without knowing what his definitions are of the terms and phrases he used.
Ehrlich told the class to make him define the terms he was using to ask them debatable questions.
“Do not let people own controversial subjective terms because they will absolutely use it to destroy you,” he said.
Senior Braysia Hicks was glad Ehrlich made the class think critically about what exactly they were being asked before they gave an answer.
“Honestly, I think that this environment was great,” Hicks said. “It allowed you to critically think. And how he kept presenting questions – it made us kind of have to be on our toes. So, it’s like ‘okay, you feel this way, but why?’ So, I think that was great, and I’m just really glad that he came out and did this for us.”
Vatz said that Ehrlich has been a guest in his class twice a year for about 24 years, and that he likes him because his political views are similar to his own.
“I first read about him when he was a delegate,” Vatz said. “And everything I read, he seemed to have the same political views that I had…. We’re both kind of moderate conservatives. Neither of us is crazy, like some conservatives are. And he’s a very reasonable, easy-to-get-along-with kind of guy. And his views, and his hierarchy of values is pretty similar to mine.”
Ehrlich stressed the importance of people defining their terms, and not indulging in the question before they know exactly what is being asked.
“You saw my sort of tests, and I want people to understand because these phrases and words can become pejoratives,” Ehrlich said. “They can get misused in political context, and I don’t want students to fall into that trap.”
Ehrlich explained how students can operationalize the lessons they learn in Vatz’s persuasion class.
“That’s what professor Vatz teaches them…. Make your debate opponent, make your coworker define their terms. Then you can give an answer. Because, in politics, we use these short-hands. And if you acquiesce or indulge the question, you’re in trouble – because they defined you,” Ehrlich said.