H2H: Should Sensitive Topics be the Subject of Debates in Schools?
April 10, 2019
Discussions, Not Debates
Some high school teachers are reluctant to address social matters such as LGBTQ rights and religion, which can often lead to dead-end arguments cemented in a politically-correct culture.
Although controversial topics can enrich the repetitive schedule of lectures and textbook readings when students apply their knowledge to relevant issues, teachers should refrain from expressing certain sensitive topics as debates in their curriculum because within a controlled public setting, students’ stances rely heavily on political correctness to be logical.
According to the Portola High Social Studies department, debates allow learners to use information literacy strategies, develop empathy and construct arguments using appropriate evidence.
The binary debate format (where one side is right to the rubric and audience) when discussing sensitive issues encourages biased interpretations of religion, orientation and other forms of expression.
“Likewise, a good debater, because the object of debate is victory by any means short of violence, will zero in on her opponent’s weakest argument,” professor of economics at State University of New York Sanford Ikeda said to the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). “The goal is not truth-seeking, the goal is to win.”
Before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, the question of whether same-sex marriage should be allowed nationally depended on upbringing and religious beliefs. Ultimately, when the law passed in favor of same-sex marriage, furthering academic discussion through a debate became a balancing act to not offend anyone.
Without thorough research into a stance and its rebuttal, students repeat inaccurate scientific studies, misconceptions and exhibit confirmation bias. Some teachers without proper preparation do not have background knowledge or professional autonomy to monitor debates, according to the Atlantic.
As a result, teachers should turn to an open-ended class discussion to continue the thoughtful exchange without justifying an argument as right or wrong.
“Debate is easier because you never level criticism at your own argument. In a good discussion you have to, at least tacitly,” Ikeda said. “You enter wanting to understand the other side, coming not with prepared criticisms and zingers but with honest questions.”
Embrace the Controversy!
We live in a world where being politically correct (PC) is necessity for logical debates. Tiptoeing around sensitive topics in the school environment has become a common occurrence, one that should come to an end.
There’s no doubt that PC culture has had a positive impact on maintaining the professionalism of workplaces and schools. However, the fundamental idea behind PC culture is to avoid controversial debates that lead to conflict, and that in it of itself is the problem.
According to the New York Times, hate crime rates are rising every year, not due to increased bigotry, but because of a lack of reasonable debates between the communities that are in conflict.
Planting the seeds for future generations is the responsibility of teachers, and they should strive to stir up controlled controversy so help their students.
Students should be given the opportunity to debate in structured settings, because it pushes them to research both sides of the controversy they are studying.
The beauty of debate lies in making students argue a side they don’t necessarily agree with. Personal and religious beliefs don’t factor into a logical and coherent argument, and pushing students outside of their comfort zones allows them to become more cognizant of all opinions surrounding a controversy.
Although some may argue that modifying the views of students goes beyond the duties of an instructor, the purpose of such debates is not to sway stances, but give students the opportunity to embrace all parts of an argument so they can make informed decisions.
Ultimately, controversies are fueled by adults who tightly hold onto ideals and beliefs. It’s much harder to change the perspective of someone who is older and more educated than a student who is inexperienced and unexposed to need media and other external influences.
However, the impact of such debates goes far beyond simply giving students the opportunity to remove their obstructed political lenses. Understanding the opposing side of an argument before coming to a conclusion is a valuable skill, and something all students should be given the opportunity to learn.