Sunday, January 27, 2013
This weekend I had the chance to judge a few rounds of a high school debate tournament. It was pretty awesome. A thousand high school students obsessed with philosophy, current events, logic, and argumentation. They were having a great time. They were learning. They were arguing about the value of maximizing welfare versus minimizing evil in the context of prison reform. They were getting a cute girl's (or guy's) phone number for the first time. And it was on a weekend. They chose to be there.
I was the co-coach of the team at Park City last year, and one of my students invited me to come this weekend. It was great to see the kids from last year. Interestingly, a lot of debaters are not very good students. That doesn't mean they aren't smart, they just don't always obsess with grades or fit in well with the structured school environment. Some of them are valedictorian, do-everything well types, but there is a good mix. It is a pretty inclusive community, actually, and they have a real sense of camaraderie.
To me, that is what school should be: a diverse group young people struggling to understand the world and learning a lot about life in the process. School should be more like a debate club and less like, well, school.
That is not to say that everyone should do debate. Some might prefer sports or drama or music or math or chess or art. But I think school should give students an opportunity to go deeper instead of trying to teach everyone a little bit of everything. And let them decide. Good things can happen. Try judging a debate tournament sometime.