Discussion over Debate

Recently, in my Anatomy and Physiology class, we had a long, two-day discussion about some current, controversial issues in science. It was almost like a debate, except it was organized like a symposium. All of us had to research the issue and find articles that supported our opinion. Then, when we actually discussed, we had to share based only on the information that we found in our articles themselves. It was unlike anything we’ve done in a class before, but I liked it a lot better than the usual debate format.

In almost any other class that I’ve had, debates are very black and white. The teacher splits up the room, and people go to one side or the other based on if they are for or against whatever is being proposed. Sometimes we have to look up information, but often it’s just based on our opinion and whatever points we can come up with on the spot.

The problem with debating issues is that it turns into very one-sided arguments. People become so focused on beating the other side that they lose any chance there was at actually listening to one another. I know I have participated in many different debates in the classroom where I hardly listen to what the other side is saying because I’m so focused on coming up with other zingers to shut them down. Or, if I am listening, it’s only so that I can come up with rebuttals that they can’t refute. And this type of discussion does nothing but alienate people more from each other.

I’ve always felt like discussions and debates should be more about meeting each other in the middle than deciding who “wins”. Especially when it comes to significant issues, isn’t it more important that we get to the bottom of the issue and talk about what really matters, rather than just try to change what other people think about it?

Part of the problem is that people too often just argue what they think, or what they’ve heard, or what they’re pretty sure that they heard someone talking about that they got from the internet. Information nowadays is so accessible, but that also means that it’s so easy for people to just type whatever they want onto a website and call it “fact”. It’s so easy for someone to read something online, believe it to be true, and let it define their entire outlook on an issue.

We need to get better, as a society and as a species. The discussion that we had over those two days in my high school Anatomy and Physiology class just showed me what kind of productive, enlightening discussions can happen when people set aside their ego, their stubbornness, their desire to win, and instead focus on bringing all sides of an issue to light. When it comes to the important problems, I would take a discussion over a debate every time.

See you next week!