Students Being Required to Debate in School

Discussion in 'Education and Academia' started by EvanJ, Jul 31, 2018.

  1. EvanJ

    EvanJ Member+

    Manchester United
    United States
    Mar 30, 2004
    Nassau County, NY
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    One of my co-workers, who is 62 years old, said that in high school and college students were required to take debate classes and be assigned a side by their teacher or professor regardless of how the students feel about the topic. I'm much younger than her, and my high school did not have a debate class. I understand that students should be taught multiple opinions about topics and be tested on them, but I don't think students should ever be forced to debate contradictory to their beliefs or opinions. Obviously we have separation between Church and State, and going beyond that I think that schools should never make students question their beliefs or their families' beliefs as long as the beliefs do not make the students hurt the school, its employees, or its students. Furthermore, students should not be asked about their beliefs, especially if the beliefs are unpopular and students know that sharing their beliefs could lead to being mistreated like bullying. I'm not trying to restrict what can be done in electives, a major like Rhetoric, or Law School, only what is done in required classes of undergraduates whose major is not related to debate or in K-12. How do professors here feel about debate being required?
     
  2. Jacen McCullough

    Nov 23, 1998
    Maryland
    Two points:

    1st- One of the major goals of education is to encourage students to challenge their beliefs. To be clear--I don't mean trying to change student beliefs, but rather to teach them how to investigate why they believe what they do on a wide range of topics and to subject those beliefs to research and analysis. Sometimes, the beliefs they entered with measure up to investigation. Sometimes they don't. But refusing to subject our beliefs to reasoned analysis is often dangerous.

    2nd- What you are describing above is one of the absolute oldest educational techniques around. It used to be called arguing something "in utramque partem" or from both sides. The goal isn't to change the student's beliefs, but rather to increase their understanding of the opposing side. The entire point of rhetoric is to create change in the views of your audience. That can't happen in an environment where the goal is to "defeat" your opponent. The only way to convince your opponent is to determine WHY they hold a different position from yours and then address those particular concerns. Arguing--in an academic setting--from a position that runs counter to your own beliefs is a centuries old method of getting a better idea of the views of the opposing side. And occasionally, in the process, folks realize that the opposing side has a better argument than their own.

    The TL/DR of it all is this: VERY few things in life are absolute, 100% non-debatable facts. Engaging in debate from both sides encourages students to investigate an issue thoroughly, which leads to students whose beliefs--regardless of which beliefs they finish with--are based on something stronger than vague parroting of their peers or small communities.
     
  3. EvanJ

    EvanJ Member+

    Manchester United
    United States
    Mar 30, 2004
    Nassau County, NY
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    There is a difference between teaching students why other people disagree with them and making students debate. I just don't think a student who did not choose debating should have to argue for something that he or she disagrees with. It can be beneficial to some students, but some students will be stubborn and intolerant of others, so I don't think it should be required. There are some students who are prejudice and will be prejudice for the rest of their lives regardless of what any teacher, professor, or the media says. Even if it is stated directly that students may not believe in what they have to debate, some students may forget this and believe that a classmate has a belief that the classmate really does not have. How would you feel if you were a Democrat and your employer told all your co-workers than you were a Republican? A public school can't make all students say the Lord's Prayer with the justification that the students do not have to believe in the prayer they are saying. The same should apply to making students debate for something they disagree with.
     
  4. Jacen McCullough

    Nov 23, 1998
    Maryland
    No, they can't (re: the Lord's Prayer). But they can make them read Biblical passages as part of a Bible as literature unit. You are talking about high school and college students. That's adults/near adults. Learning how to identify the views and arguments of the opposing side in a way that isn't superficial (which is what happens when you argue both sides of a topic) is one of THE most effective ways to do that. This isn't just me talking--this goes back all the way to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. You are literally arguing against centuries of pedagogical technique based on the position that teens and 20 somethings can't, in your view, distinguish between deeply held ideas and an academic exercise. Having worked with that age demographic for 13 years, I can tell you that the vast majority of them can do this quite easily.

    To put a different spin on it: If your boss told you to put together a presentation of a project, but you disagreed with it, would you refuse on the grounds you list above? Of course not--you put your own views to the side for a bit, and do your job to the best of your ability.
     
    Ismitje repped this.
  5. EvanJ

    EvanJ Member+

    Manchester United
    United States
    Mar 30, 2004
    Nassau County, NY
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Here's a story that happened in the south. I think it was under 10 years ago, but it was before the Supreme Court legalized homosexual marriage. A lesbian wanted to bring a female date to the prom, but the school prohibited same-sex dates. She sued the school. Rather than fight in court, the school canceled the prom. The school did not say that they canceled the prom because of the dispute, and I didn't read about the aftermath, but I wouldn't be surprised if many students blamed the lesbian for the prom being canceled and made her life miserable. Imagine that you are a student at that school who knew that happened and a teacher tells you to debate in favor of homosexual marriage. I think some students would refuse, tell their parents, and I think there would be public criticism (especially from religious people) of a teacher for trying to make a student debate in favor of homosexual marriage. I support homosexual marriage, but I am stating the reality of how some people feel. Making debates about some topics is asking for trouble. Another example is NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. There are plenty of parents who would criticize (and possibly call for discipline of) teachers who tried to make children debate for a certain side. Many African-Americans would feel strongly that students should not be forced to debate in favor of all players having to stand on the field for the anthem. What if most of the class can handle the debate but one student has a strong view against one side of the debate and punches the student who was debating for that side, vandalizes that student's house, or does something else wrong?

    Why does liberal Person X watch MSNBC but not Fox News while conservative Person Y watches Fox News but not MSNBC? It's because those people are not open to having their minds changed by the other side.

    It would be great if it was possible to know what students and their families would handle forced debating well without having to find out by doing it, but finding out in advance isn't possible. I think debates would be less risky if they were historical with little or no influence on the present or about fictional literature.

    Now that I think about it, it might work to have opt-in or opt-out. The parents could have possible debate topics named that students could be required to debate for a certain side and the parents and students could come to a mutual decision to debate or not debate. There was one example of family choice when I was in school. In seventh grade, Health was required for half the year. Normally NFL means National Football League, but in this case there was a Health NFL section that meant Non Family Life.

    TL/DR: I'm not saying forced debates don't have any benefits. I'm saying that in some cases they are too much of a risk. I don't know what current events were like in ancient Greece, but homosexual marriage, kneeling during the national anthem, and abortion were not debated then.
     
  6. jerrytf

    jerrytf New Member

    Tottenham Hotspur
    England
    Feb 15, 2019
    Learning to debate can be really useful, it's more the underlying assumption that debates have to somehow be antagonistic. What could be taught instead of debate perhaps is consultation, where you can learn to present an opinion not as more right as other opinions, but as admittedly fundamentally incomplete and which welcomes and will be enriched by other points of view.
     

Share This Page