When I first planned to have a debate in class, I was a little worried about the topic. I knew there were things that were controversial, but whether they were appropriate topics or taboo was uncertain. This problem was solved by asking my students to pick a topic. After a painful 15 minute brainstorming session, the topic was decided by the class: "Which is more important - process or result?"

"Really?" I asked them. "You can talk about that for an hour?" I hung my head as I erased death penalty and abortion from the blackboard - two topics that are sure to ignite fiery debate (especially in a college classroom).

So I was skeptical. Who wouldn't be? Process vs. Result?

It was easily one of my best classes. The students were brilliant and used very creative debating techniques, such as asking the opponents a question and attacking the logic of their answer. Only one ad-hom was used, and I wrote it on the board as an example to prevent it from continuing.

One of my favorite exchanges was between a young man and woman:

Young man: I know myself, so I know that's not true for me.
Young woman: How can you know yourself? You say...
Young man: [cutting her off] I know myself because I am myself!

The energy during the debate was exceeded only by the decompression afterward. The students spoke together in small groups for around 15 minutes about the debate. I found myself staring with awe as the students ran the class. I was unnecessary.

"Finally," I thought, after fighting the notion of the teacher-centered classroom for over a year. "They're getting it."

1 comment:

de-contaminator said...

The thing I love most about debating is its tolerance of fierce arguments and its spirit of hitting the nail on the head. Isn't that cool? We fight to differ and stick to our own guns. It's also great fun to hunt down the opponents' logical fallacies and attack them, although sometimes lame reasoning topples over all by itself.

Debate could also be considered as a battle between different sets of prejudices but it always seeks to make truth rise above water and help correct slanted ideas.