A Dearth of Debate?

Debate? Dissent? Discussion? Oh, Don’t Go There! "What are the consequences of students’ growing reluctance to debate? Though it represents a welcome departure from the polarized mudslinging of the 90’s culture wars, it also represents a failure to fully engage with the world, a failure to test one’s convictions against the logic and passions of others. It suggests a closing off of the possibilities of growth and transformation and a repudiation of the process of consensus building. “It doesn’t bode well for democratic practice in this country,” Professor Anderson said. “To keep democracy vital, it’s important that students learn to integrate debate into their lives and see it modeled for them, in a productive way, when they’re in school.”"

A fascinating article that ties in with what I was talking about in this weblog a few weeks ago about the way students in one English class were reacting to Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery where they were far less willing to condemn the practice of the people in the town but, instead, considered themselves not able to judge another culture.

What’s even more interesting is that this article underscores some of the culture clash that we have at home. Ann was a high school debater and, later, did a lot of debate coaching. She values debate and cares passionately about issues. I, on the other hand, am often very reluctant to have an opinion. Sometimes its because I do not consider myself as informed as I want to be and sometimes it is because I honestly believe that there are too many facets to certain situations for me to take a definitive stand on a given issue.

Why were some people able, on September 12th, to immediately see where the Bush administration was going and then start to condemn it as a bad plan? It took me months to reach that point. I do not agree with how the Bush administration is hanlding a great many things related to the events of the last six months but it took me until January or so to feel that internally. I have often felt that I lacked something that other, more fiery people have possessed. But now that I think about it, I see how I am much more a product of this new type of thinking than people like my wife.

So, what is to be done? I fully believe that active, vigorous debate is essential and I generally have no problem stirring the soup. Maybe I need to be much quicker to put a stake in the ground and risk being wrong rather than waiting until I am absolutely certain of a given belief.

Andrew Pulrang (who I have been referring back to a lot lately but he exemplifies the type of person who appears quick to form strong opinions which, it so turns out, I generally agree with) describes his weblog as the home of shaky opinions. He, too, isn’t fully sure of his beliefs but he is far more willing to go out on a limb and speak his mind. And, really, isn’t that one of the points of a weblog?