Policy debate? Sure, as long as the home team always wins. Politics today . . . is attitudinal, not ideological. The reason to be for someone is who is against them. What matters more than policy is your side’s winning, and what matters more than your side’s winning is the other side’s losing.
— James Poniewozik, New York Times, May 4, 2017
All those problems [e.g., economic inequality, urban violence, climate change] are serious, they are daunting, but they are not insoluble. What is preventing us from tackling them [is that] we now have a situation in which everybody is listening to those who already agree with them, and are further and further reinforcing their own realities, to the neglect of a common reality, that allows us to have a healthy debate, and then try to find common ground and actually move solutions forward.
— President Barack Obama, University of Chicago Forum on Youth Leadership and Public Service, April 24, 2017
Last month the science department chair at one of our partner schools — Daniel Hale Williams College Prep — worked with us to argumentalize her excellent and engaging poster project on endangered animals in her environmental science course. The result upgraded the project by integrating more critical thinking, social learning, and intentionality about bringing evidence together with thoughtful claims about the species’ possible extinction that students study and work on.
We wanted to share a small set of video clips we recently gathered from partner schools who this spring implemented argument-centered projects en español on authentic beauty and its relationship to cosmetics, and on the comparative value of ancient Sparta and ancient Athens as models for societies today (in English, for a social studies classroom).
These short clips can give teachers and administrators a further glimpse into argument-centered classrooms, as they engage students in debates on issues that they have researched, studied, organized their ideas about, and built arguments on.
This is an argument-centered adaptation and iteration of the small group discussions strategy, designed for a middle school English language arts unit on the award-winning young adult novel “The Goats,” written by Brock Cole in 1987.
Our students can often best make meaning from an extended text through discussions with their peers. Through the social engagement of these discussions, middle and high school students can clarify, organize, and deepen their thinking about a literary work, and become closer in their relationship to the text and to the act of reading, analyzing, and interpreting literature.
Argumentalizing these small-group discussions can enhance their academic impact, and at the same time give students a more vigorous cognitive and communicative experience using this fundamental classroom routine. We can argumentalize small-group discussions in several familiar ways.
This is a comprehensive argument-centered mini-unit on the United States’ decision to use atomic bombs against Japan at the end of World War II. Students study this momentous decision and its consequences through videos, primary documents, and analytical essays. They use these sources to formulate and build out arguments on the fundamental and enduring debatable question:
Was the United States justified in using atomic bombs against Japan in World War II?
Simultaneous table debates take place on this issue across the classroom. These debates are followed up with a focus on the academic means and methods that are used to evaluate competing arguments on a complex, rooted, significant controversy such as the historical question that envelopes America’s use of atomic weapons in WWII. Students conduct one-on-one argument evaluation, using a model debate flow sheet. Then they conclude the mini-unit by evaluating the argumentation in a fully modeled debate and its tracking form.