I am right, you are wrong. In nearly every debate the ultimate motive is to prove that one side is right and the other is inherently wrong, rarely leaving any room for middle ground. Sadly, because of debate’s prevalence throughout society, American culture and education has been deduced to lecturing and mere dualistic contention. From news shows to elementary classrooms, logic and reason serve as the gateway to discovering truths, according to western education. But what exactly are the consequences of a debate-centered education system, and can America make changes in order to diminish any negative consequences? For one, it is evident that in comparison to Asian nations, American education is lacking. When it comes to academic achievement, according to the International Business Times, the US is ranked 17th in the world (Gayathri). Additionally, research has shown that Americans do not appreciate education like many Asian nationals who value knowledge as, “integral to what it means to be a person, and that socialization, education knowledge and morality are inseparable” (Alexander 11). In order to address these two issues and better America’s education system, one solution does not exist. A hybrid of solutions must be explored. The two articles The Roots of Debate in Education and the Hope of Dialogue and The Power of Context: Bernie Goetz and the Rise and Fall of New York City Crime, written by Deborah Tannen and Malcolm Gladwell, respectively, offer two theories that could revolutionize western education. By considering, and possibly implementing, the authors’ theories regarding the importance of dialogue and the influential power of our environment, America would permanently improve its education system.
In her article, Deborah Tannen mentions an important consequence of the debate pedagogy dominating western school systems: “The tendency to value formal, objective knowledge over relational, intuitive knowledge,” she claims, “grows out of our notion of education as training for debate” (405). The Georgetown professor addresses the agonistic, debate focused educational system by referring to it as warlike, “deeply rooted in Western tradition, going back to the ancient Greeks” (Tannen 402) American education has always been centered on discovering abstract truth through the debate of two ideas. Tannen explains how seeking to prove others wrong, as opposed to discovering new ideas or solutions, has become an end in itself (413). For example, western education teaches that academic essays are, for the most part, only supposed to be written in direct opposition to another essay. If an author fails to objectively choose a side, then their opinion is often considered unnecessary. But how can we expect students to think creatively and discover new solutions when they are only told to tear down and refute already presented ideas? Tannen considers this very question. Despite the millennium long roots in western society, she believes America is capable of altering its education system to a more dialogue based method of teaching, and explains the benefits of doing so. Early in her article, Tannen asks readers to compare the contention filled western education model with that of the dialogue dominated Chinese culture. As stated earlier, many Asian nations, including China, have far surpassed the US in academic achievement, and Tannen believes the inherent presence of dialogue throughout their culture may be the reason why. She explains how educating children by using a dialogic approach fosters an increased access to knowledge because “the aim [is] to ‘enlighten an inquirer,’ no to ‘overwhelm the opponent’” (403). Whereas, in western culture and education, critical response is limited to critique; therefore, students are, “not doing the other kinds of critical thinking that could be helpful; looking for new insights, new perspectives, new ways of thinking, new knowledge”- all processes made possible through dialogue (414)....
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