Is “feel” the new “think?”

For the past few years, I’ve been on a mission in all my classes. No, it’s not about helping my students to be more critical and analytical thinkers. Nah, it’s got nothing to do with wanting them to read more widely or think beyond their own experience.

No. My mission is much simpler than that. I want my students to stop feeling so damn much, and start thinking.

I ask my students what they think about this or that issue in our class discussions, and here’s what I get:

“I feel that the evil in the novel is created by social expectations…”
“I feel like this novel has a different representation of childhood…”
“I feel like the monsters in the movie are manifestations of the dangers of blind obedience…”

Did I miss a memo somewhere? Are “think” and “feel” now synonyms?

Don’t get me wrong–I love Oprah, but is she the reason for the smooshing together of two verbs that actually and historically have indicated two entirely different modes of being?

Maybe I’m being all English professor persnickety here, but it seems to me that if you’re talking about a “feeling,” no one can disagree with you, no one can argue with you, no one can say that you’re wrong.

So, for the last few years, I interrupt students when they say “I feel…” and I tell them that I’m interested in what they think, not what they feel.

They blink at me, confused, not sure how to continue–and maybe not even sure what the hell I’m talking about, which makes me curious. Has no one ever pointed out to them that “I feel” does not correspond to “I think?”

By this point in the semester, however, I am delighted to report that many students catch the “I feel” as soon as the words come out of their mouths, and shift to “I think..” I have no idea if they understand the distinction I’m trying to impose on them, or if they’ve just figured out how to negotiate the lunacy of the professor in Room 208, but I don’t care.

Because if I feel that it’s important for students to say “I think,” who can argue with me?