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admit that the stereotyped methods of skeptics is best.
But lo! the skeptic hears as in a trance the cryptic words: "The socialized recitation or pupil activity is not a panacea for all classroom difficulties-it does not sugar-coat the memory pill-it does not act as a substitute for all written work. Correct spelling, after careful consideration, must be memorized; proper penmanship, after discussion, must be applied; linear measure, after development, must be fixed and made subject to ready recall. Pupil activity does not mean eliminating the study period, or substituting oral work for written. 'It gives the pupils objectives and habits of work in the schoolroom which are of proved validity in the real world beyond-education for the actual life into which the pupils will go!'"
Dear, disillusioned skeptic! Hast thou been converted-for except as ye become like Miss G thou shalt not enter into the kingdom of the socialized recitation!
To a Child
So like her, dear! From the deep
Of the years I see her arise.
-STOKELY S. FISHER.
The Academic Debate-Its Aim and Method
WILLIAM A. WETZEL, PRINCIPAL OF THE HIGH SCHOOL,
TRENTON, N. J.
HIS is a time when psychology and pedagogy are applying the acid test to many of our educational practices. One after another of our idols, which we have imagined to be pure gold, are discovered to be made of much baser metal. Some educators are becoming suspicious of the genuine worth of the debate as organized in academic circles. It is a fact that "an educated man should know not only that other people are in the wrong, but why they are in the wrong. And to do this it is necessary to study with all possible patience the brief of the devil's advocate."*
All this is equivalent to saying that the only effective answer to error is truth. The debate, therefore, must be judged from
this point of view:
1. Does it state the problem in such a way as to find the truth? 2. Does it put the student in the attitude of wanting to know the truth?
3. Does it put him in a situation where he is most likely to find the truth?
4. Does it give him the kind of moral training that would lead him to advocate the truth?
The state of New Jersey has recently required of all its high schools that they offer a course in "Problems in Democracy." It must be that the educational leaders of the state have come to see the importance of giving our secondary school pupils training in the art of thinking straight' on public questions. This is just the kind of training that the academic debate was supposed to give.
Sound thinking presupposes a problem. The debate falls down in its effort to state a problem. It frequently confines mental
Preston Slosson, The Devil's Advocate, Independent, January 22, 1921, page 89.
activity as narrowly as the question put to the innocent witness, "Have you ceased beating your wife?" The statement of the question is frequently such as to lead to disputatious hair-splitting without advancing the truth. It leads to trying to unhorse one's opponent without riding one's own steed. The debate offers only one solution to any question. The negative needs simply to prove the impracticability of the affirmative side of the question. To do this it may offer a counter propositon, but it need not do so. Is there not a better way to state a civic problem for the purpose of a debate?
The immigration problem is before the American people today. The question is debated in Congress, but not in the usual academic fashion. The debater has first bounded his problem. Then he has thought out the solution to the problem, and finally, he has come before his fellow congressmen to persuade them to apply his remedy. The question, "Resolved, that immigration should be prohibited for the next two years," has recently been submitted for debate in academic circles. This is too narrow a statement for a fair-minded and thorough study of the problem. The first question is: Is any kind of action necessary, and if so, why? If action shall be taken, shall it take the form of admitting no one for a period of time, or shall it take the form of selected immigration, prohibiting indefinitely certain undesirables? If the remedy shall take the form of prohibiting all immigration for a time, how long shall the prohibition continue? In other words, the finding of the best remedy necessarily implies a consideration of the whole problem. And it implies the consideration of the whole problem by every one who attempts to draw the final conclusion. The partition of the problem among debaters, as usually found, is most artificial and corresponds to no real situation in life. It seems, therefore, that the debate is not adapted to stating a question in such a way as to bring out the truth.
Secondly, does the academic debate put the student in the attitude of wanting to know the truth? The quality of open-mindedness is none too common in society at large. We are guided too much by our prejudices. We hang the man first, then try him.
The experience of the writer is that high school seniors show a strong inclination toward coming to conclusions too soon. What is the effect of assigning a student on one side or the other of a debate? He is no longer a student, he instantly becomes an advocate, a partizan. He goes to the library, not to learn something, but to prove something. The difference is the difference between the poles and it is this difference that gives character to the whole exercise. It becomes a contest, and more and more the elements of the football game, cheering section and school songs and the like, are introduced. The success of the "contest" is gauged by the amount of "school spirit" that it engendered. There is little of the spirit of openmindedness in this exercise. Therefore, the conclusion must be that the academic debate does not put the student in the attitude of wanting to know the truth.
In the third place, does the academic debate put the student in a situation where he is most likely to learn the truth? This question is already answered in the second. His investigation is like an ex parte hearing. It brings out only one side. And the performance at the final contest is frequently laughable. At times there is neither co-ordination nor conflict of ideas until the rebuttal. It resembles a football contest, in which the two teams run through their signals during the bigger part of the game, and the captains meet in personal combat at the end. The essence of any plan is that it produce what it is designed to produce. Preparation for an academic debate means to gather evidence to prove one's side. Therefore, the debate does not naturally place the student in a situation where he is most likely to learn the truth.
Finally, does the academic debate give the student the kind of moral training that would lead him to advocate the truth. Under what circumstances is a man the more likely to become skilled in finding the truth, and desirous of expounding the truth? Is it when he is trained first to define the problem which he considers vital, then search out the significant facts, and from these facts without fear or prejudice draw his conclusions; or when he arbitrarily assumes a position and then searches out such facts only as substantiate this position? One could almost say that the
strength of the student's moral training would vary in inverse ratio with his skill in this latter respect.
The final conclusion, therefore, is, that the academic debate does not give the student exercise in the kind of moral training that would lead him to advocate the truth. The whole argument of this paper is based on the assumption that the debate is an educational exercise, designed not simply to make fluent speakers or disputatious advocates, but that it is designed to furnish a legitimate and much needed training in citizenship. Therefore, the kind of debate that should be encouraged in our schools is the kind typified by the Lincoln-Douglas debates, or the Webster-Hayne debates. It would still be possible to have interscholastic debates. But it would be necessary to score each debater independently for the thoroughness of his study, the logic of his conclusions, and the clarity of his exposition. In such a debate there might be as many conclusions drawn as there are contestants. But each contestant would arrive at his conclusions sincerely, according to the light which he had received. It seems, therefore, that the kind of training in debating that will be valuable to our young people is that which offers exercise in the analysis of a vital problem, skill in digging out significant facts, ability in combining these facts so as to draw a logical conclusion, and finally, power to convince others of the validity of the argument.
A Hint Of Eternity
The sunshine of the ripening summer fields,
-HELEN CARY CHADWICK.