Maybe there must have been a grand era of debating in public, but I have not experienced a mind-changing debate in my life.
I think all of us have become better at understanding the structure of an argument, and can pick out facts to prove whatever you believe in. What is the debate meant to achieve in a “post-truth” world? How do you argue about gender or oppression in the woke political climate? There are so many facts to prove a bigoted point, and such a leftist “bias” to reality. You can’t convince them; they can’t convince me.
I feel bad and even cautious about making this statement, because as a teacher, I really understand the importance of scrutinising your beliefs. Debates seem like a good arena to do that. But, I feel discussions are a better space which can lead to changing minds. I really want everybody in the classroom to feel safe enough to be loudly stupid. Most people do learn from discussions more than they do from textbooks. Only if you have some prior knowledge/experience does a subject pique your interest.
Debates come with the connotation of a winner and a loser. Whenever I have an online debate, there is a sense of “wanting to have the last word” on the matter. So mostly, my tactic has been to let the person have the last word, but let it be obviously stupid exposing their assumptions.
In the classroom, I avoid having the last word but encourage students to summarize the thoughts that were brought up, or end with something sane that we could all agree on. If I have an opportunity for longer after-hours conversation with a curious student, this “Socratic questioning” tool helps me direct them.
I would rather discuss deeply, than indulge in debates to change minds. I am very loud about what my stance is, and it is a joke amongst my students how predictable my positions can be. I have thought about how I cannot be neutral, because there is no apolitical education, just transparent political education. I am not trying to convert anyone. You can dismiss what I say and I will not waste my energy to prove to your how right I am. However, I am sure that if you give it a serious thought with empathy, your conclusions will be similar if not as radical. When you think about issues, and are not alienated to the stakes, you know where you stand.
I know this is a passive, non-urgent stance. Like, education is urgent because if you don’t speak fiercely, a Nazi would do it for you. Sometimes, I feel like I should be invested in winning the argument. The truth is I have been more apathetic about entering a reactionary maze than ever. Debates simply mirror the beats of an intelligent conversation. It is an ego-high.
I think that true learning happens over time. Very few get an aha-moment in a debate and take a 180 degree turn. The aha-moment indicates the tipping point, not the journey of conversations, doubts and reflections. So, I would rather provoke with a good question or a compelling story than dump statistics to win. [Statistics are important, of course. Facts are important. It just seems that they are not compelling anymore, and I have never been a resourceful trivia person. I don’t have a list of talking points to counter the other talking points, because I don’t read talking points.] If you are a good listener and can spot the thought leap, and ask the right question, you can make the unapparent bias apparent.
However, sometimes I do succumb to telling people off by telling them to read more social theory. But most times, I wish people had more empathy and self-awareness.
Basically, an whole essay to tell you: don’t try to start a debate with me. I may come off as a stubborn person. You can ask me my opinion, and I will give it to you in beautiful prose. Ask. Joke. Share. Discuss, instead of debate. Otherwise I will only wait for your last word to ring stupid…
Won’t rule; Won’t be ruled,
PS: Waiting for the day when everybody knows the labour theory of value as a talking point.