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Tag: debate

Redefining National Security

Tomorrow is the first of the presidential debates for this election cycle. If tradition holds, one of the major topics that will be addressed over all these events is the concept of “national security”. And most, if not all, the questions related to that phrase will center around the military, Russia, terrorism, and other topics that involve ships, bombs, and the other stuff of war.

However, that thinking is far too narrow for the world in which we currently live. We need to expand the definition of “national security”.

Debating Charters, Intelligently

The concept of debate has been severely corrupted in the age of 24-hour talking head television. Boxing up two to six people on a TV screen and letting them yell opinions over each other for five minutes may make for higher ratings but it certainly doesn’t provide any context for whatever the topic is.

A more interesting approach is a public radio series called Intelligence Squared US (IQ2US), the American branch of a fifteen year old UK organization founded with the “goal of raising the level of public discourse” on important current issues. I’ve listened to a number of their programs over the years and most are a nice learning experience. More than a few found me yelling back at the speaker while driving.

The format uses what they call the “Oxford” style of debate1 in which two people on each side present their arguments for or against a specific resolution. The debate begins with each person in turn given a fixed amount of time to present their case. In part 2, the moderator and audience members get to ask questions and the participants can interact with each other, dealing only with information, not opinion. Finally each person gets a couple of minutes to present a closing argument.

Each debate does declare a winner, based on votes from the audience. Before starting, they vote for or against the resolution, or declare themselves undecided. The same vote is taken at the end. The winner is the team that has the largest percentage change to their side. The organization also takes pre and post votes on the website but it’s not clear if those numbers are included.

Last week I discovered that IQ2U events are being streamed on YouTube and I got the chance to actually watch the debate proceedings live. It’s very different from the podcast, which is only audio and obviously edited from a much longer discussion.

This particular debate (embedded below) was of particular interest since the resolution being address was “Charter Schools Are Overrated”.

I’m not going to try and summarize more than 90 minutes of discussion but I do have a few observations.

On the side opposed to the resolution was the founder of an organization that promotes school choice and a former Florida commissioner of education. They didn’t seem like they had spoken at all before coming on stage and were reciting their own list of talking points, with lots of anecdotes and very little evidence.

I thought the two college professors and researchers on the supporting side did a better job but also had some communications issues. Both brought plenty of data to the table but should have spent more time prior to the debate boiling it down to a few, very relevant points.

The moderator does get a little involved in the proceedings, while staying pretty neutral, and that’s a good thing. I liked that he challenged speakers on both sides to restrict their statements to evidence and not try to their opinion as fact. The people on the “news” channels could learn something.

Finally, there’s the proposal itself. As with many, even most, of the topics on this series, the statement is far too broad. It’s also not the most important issue when it comes to charter schools. We should be debating whether charters are a good format for the overall improvement of public education. But this was a good start.

Anyway, go watch the whole thing (I won’t spoil the ending by saying which side won), although you may want to do it in private. If you’re like me, you may feel like very vocally joining the debate.

Yelling at the Podcast

I had a four hour drive home from our state technology conference today and what better way to pass the time than an audio program that gets me into a one-sided shouting match with the speakers in my car.

That was provided by a debate from Intellegence Square, and organization that stages “Oxford-style” debates on various subjects. Having listened to many of them, I can tell you that these debates are nothing like the jokes staged by our cable news networks.

Anyway, this particular debate, recorded in London, began with the resolution “Let’s end the tyranny of the test. Relentless school testing demeans education”.

The pair arguing in favor of that statement made some excellent, rational points about how the apparently heavy regime of standardized testing in the UK is harmful to children and trivializes learning.

The pair on the other side, one of which is “chief executive” of a UK “free school” company (equivalent to a charter school company in the US), basically rattled off a long series of statements that testing, “relentless testing” was actually good for kids.

For example, while discussing the achievement gap between children in poverty and those from better off homes that “chief executive” makes the statement “… that regime of yes, relentless testing, is the best way make sure that all children leave primary school able to read and write, including the most disadvantaged.”

He also tried to make the case that “free schools” and “academies” (UK variations on charter schools) would be the solution to his country’s “dismal” showing on international tests, citing as an example children in Wales, where they have no free schools, and do poorly on those exams. The actual factors of children living in poverty, of course, are “irrelevant factors” when in come to learning.

His partner, head of education research for a charity in the UK and author of something called the Seven Myths About Education, declared in her opening statement: “I will explain how tests provide the most accurate information about how a pupil has has done at the end of their time in school.” She continued by stating categorically, “First of all, tests are accurate. They’re reliable. They’re fair. They are free from bias… If we look at the evidence, the evidence shows that tests are really good predictors of things that really matter in life.”

And my favorite, her declarative statement on the topic of using projects to teach (one of the seven “myths” in her book: “In actual fact, projects sound very seductive, projects sound very exciting when in actual fact, they overwhelm working memory, they make it hard for people to learn, they’re often very confusing and don’t have all the benefits their proponents say they do.”

There’s a whole lot more to the crap they had to say. Take an hour and listen to the whole thing. See if you don’t find yourself yelling at your headphones as well.

A Mediocre Debate

The Post’s Answer Sheet blog today has a short piece concerning a recent live chat at the paper dealing with education issues, featuring three state governors.  At one point during an interview, the moderator asks them “how America became “so mediocre” in regard to educational outcomes”

The governor of Mississippi1 started by blaming parents. Specifically he said that our troubles began when both parents started working outside the home: “And the mom is in the work place.”.

Ok, that makes for a nice, sensationalistic headline that draws traffic, links, and comments (almost 2000 the last time I looked).

However, the real story here is not that yet another regressive politician yearns to return to a black and white, Ozzie and Harriet2 view of American life that really only existed on TV screens.

This is the state of discussion these days.

A reporter declares the American education system to be universally mediocre (or broken or failing or [insert negative phase here]) without ever explaining the claim, everyone nods in agreement, and a panel of politicians proceed to generate sound bites blaming teachers, tests, Finland, video games, moms in the work place – basically anything other than than their own antiquated policies.


1 Certainly a shining center of academic excellence in this country…

2 Look it up, kiddies.

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