Thursday, January 3, 2013

Implementing Common Core In South Dakota May Mean No Debate

Or at least no high school debate classes.

Currently South Dakota high school students must earn 4 language arts credits.  Those credits must include 1.5 writing credits, 1.5 literature credits. That literature requirement specifies that a student must take a semester of American Literature. The requirements also mandate a half credit of speech or debate and allow for a half credit language arts elective.

A new proposal that I'm told will be taken up this spring will operate under the principle that "each standard need not be a separate focus for instruction and assessment." In short, students many no longer be required to take American Literature along with speech or debate in order to earn a high school diploma.

Eliminating the speech or debate requirement is problematic and counter-intuitive on several levels.

First, the Common Core emphasizes non-fiction reading. Preparing debate cases requires that students read news articles, research students, white papers, and philosophical texts. No one sites Flannery O'Connor or Nathaniel Hawthorne in a policy debate round. Sometimes, I wish they would, but that's a topic for another day.

Second, debate requires students to evaluate sources and be aware of source bias. More importantly, speech and debate textbooks have units on propaganda techniques and recognizing logical fallacies. Given that fact checking has of necessity become a cottage industry. Politicians and pundits make a career by using facts to prove points that those facts were not intended to prove. TV advertisements use every logical fallacy imaginable to get consumers to buy products the consumer probably doesn't need. In short, recognizing logical fallacies and propaganda seems a necessary 21st Century life skill

Senator Russel Olson wants colleges and universities to teach students to be primarily good workers not necessarily good thinkers. If Olson's bill passes, high school speech and debate classes may be one of the few chances students get to question presumptions and construct arguments.

Of course, it's possible that Olson and those behind the proposal that will eliminate the debate requirement don't want citizens to think but just do what they're told. If that's the case, then South Dakota needs more not fewer debate classes.

No comments: