Editor’s Note: We are honored to publish the following guest post by Zoe Weil. Zoe is the President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), www.HumaneEducation.org and author of Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life.
Two debate-related events coincided last week that sparked this blog post. First, at my son’s high school the seniors had their debates. Every senior is required to participate in a debate in order to graduate. Second, I read this report that had been aired on NPR:
“In Mexico, thousands of people have died in drug-related violence in the past three years as the government has ramped up its war on drug cartels. But is the United States to blame for Mexico’s drug woes?
Some argue that the United States bears responsibility because of its market for illegal drugs, along with the flow of guns south of the border. Others blame Mexico’s government, saying it permitted a culture of corruption to flourish and resisted U.S. help for decades.
A panel of experts recently faced off on the topic in an Oxford-style debate. Part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. series, the debate featured three experts arguing for the motion “America Is To Blame For Mexico’s Drug War” and three arguing against.
In a vote before the debate, the audience at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts voted 43 percent in favor of the motion and 22 percent against; 35 percent were undecided. After the debate, 72 percent agreed that “America Is To Blame For Mexico’s Drug War,” while 22 percent remained against and 6 percent were still undecided.”
Does anything strike you as odd about this debate? It certainly seems odd to me. How could something as complex as “Mexico’s drug woes” ever be reduced to an either/or question of blame? But so often, this is what debates foster – either/or answers to complex problems. Choose a side, argue it, and win or lose. Meanwhile the issue isn’t solved.
I think learning the skill of debate in school is useful. It fosters critical thinking and the use of logic. But I wonder why high schools have debate teams and make participating in a debate a requirement for graduation but don’t also have solutionary teams and make participation in creating solutions to problems a requirement for graduation.
Imagine if every school had a solutionary team; better yet, imagine if every school had a course in developing solutions to entrenched challenges. Better yet, imagine if the very purpose of schools was to prepare students to be solutionaries no matter what field they pursued upon graduation.
Maybe we should start with solutionary teams. Students could tackle a problem and (if we must have competition to make such a team fly) could compete. The winner would be the team that came up with the most effective and practical solution to a given challenge.
Oh, and then we could implement their solution.
Maybe we should institute a debate on whether this is a good idea or not.
What a great idea! Solutionary teams! It makes so much sense. Winning an argument is fine if you’re a lawyer and his/her client, – but even winning a case doesn’t always solve the problem. Identifying a problem is only the fist step – I agree with Zoe, we need to teach our children the next step – how to fix them!
A Attura says
Go for it!! This is a great idea!! Kids go through school, K-12, CLUELESS — and by the time they graduate from college, many of them are still CLUELESS and UNEMPOWERED. For the lucky ones, it “just” takes a few years for them to understand their “global” responsibilities in life.
Kids just LOVE it when you give tham some measure of authority and decision -making (with a faciliatator in charge of the group, of course) , and also when they see that tangible results of this new-found use of authority and decision ARE possible. Imagine the TRULY EMPOWERED Young Adults they will grow up to be — their colleges will BENEFIT from them, and so will the rest of the world, as they make their way up through the education process and then into the world.
I like your idea. Go for it. Teenagers will love this
I thought this was supposed to be part of every single class. Well, maybe not during Physical Education, but isn’t “debate and troubleshooting” part of almost every class?
Math, Geology, Physics, History, Chemistry, Geography, Philosophy, Biology — from 5th grade and on, I remember heavy discussion and working for solutions to problems, real or not, small or big, and what implications of the solutions might be, etc.
I particularly enjoyed Geography, Physics, Math and Philosophy discussion. Great fun!
There weren’t any right or wrong “answers”, but the class would debate, then “correct” each other’s ideas, etc, etc. I’m not sure if that’s what she guest writer meant.
Ofcourse, this was in Portugal, I don’t know about the U.S.A. When my family moved to to U.S.A, I was in 11th grade, and I just remember a lot of kids bored at their desks, chewing their pencil, resting their head on the desk and we were supposed to watch films to pass the time. Ugggg…. I would just pop out my drawing pad and work on commissioned artwork for sale on DeviantArt 😛
The teachers would walk past everyone to make sure they were.. eumm… paying attention. They’d stop at my desk, examine my artwork, get interested, and ignore the movie themselves, haha! Good times, good times… 😛 *shakes head*
The class work was so behind what I learned in Portugal; I spent the classes doing homework, and I would usually hand in next week’s homework at the end of the class itself.
Another thing: It seems that here in U.S.A. you have to memorize a lot of “facts”. So if you’re learning, say, Geography, you will learn what mountain is the tallest, what is the capital of X country, what does the word X mean… while in Portugal, it’s nothing like that. It’s assumed that you will know these things. What they do test is… I don’t even want to go there, because I’d probably be quoting the entire Geography page on Wikipedia.
I hope I didn’t sound annoying, I just want the USA Education system to wake up. There are so many bright students here who lose motivation to learn because their minds are not engaged. It’s a pity, such a waste. Then there are those who are force-fed so many extra curricular activities a day, they don’t even have time to think.
To people who attack me with “Well, then go back to your country”: I am, do not worry. I had to immigrate with my family because I was under-age, but I’m going back now that I am 23 years-old and can live in Portugal as an adult.
I really hope education changes for the better in USA. Besides that, I had a good time here! I will really miss the people!