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.