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tom_g's avatar

Did you have the opportunity to experience open debate in college?

Asked by tom_g (16575 points ) January 26th, 2013

Risky question that will likely get me in some trouble. I don’t mean this to be. Just throwing this out there because it’s been on my mind…

I’ve been trying to figure out why there are so many ruffled feathers here on fluther lately, and it occurred to me that it might be cultural issue about the nature of investigation and debate overall, that is often fostered in college.

The nature of (good) college experience is to get that critical thinking reflex to start firing. Nothing is sacred or off limits. So gender, class, economic theory, sexuality, religion, history, science, race, etc. are all things that are debated constantly. More importantly, you can’t make a statement without being prepared to back it up. “The sky is blue.” “Oh, really….I’d be interested in your evidence for this.” It’s not personal, and it does wonders for sharpening those important faculties that humans have for reason and critical thought.

So, it occurs to me that many people might not have had the opportunity to experience this. To them, it might feel less like the discussion and debate of ideas, and more like an attack on the very essence of who they are. If you’ve never had to look at – and defend with facts and reason – all of those things I listed above just so you can pass a class, it might feel very uncomfortable.

Outside of the type of hyper-critical environment that college provides, there are very little opportunities to experience this, unless you surround yourself with these type of people.

So, at risk of sounding like I am making a “oh, so you haven’t gone to college” snob argument, I will make these comments and prepare to feel the heat. If I’m wrong, let me know. If I’m on to something, let me know. It would be helpful to understand why things that seem to be “obvious” to some (that debate of all ideas is important) feel “offensive” or “oppressive” to others.

Disclaimer: I am not very bright. This has nothing to do with how smart someone is. I’m trying to discuss the habitual patterns that our minds take when we approach the world. What is our take (critical, noncritical, etc) on experience and ideas? And what influences such approaches?

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8 Answers

janbb's avatar

I was very lucky. I attended a college in which small, seminar classes were the norm and discussion and questions were encouraged. I enjoy a good back and forth although it seems to me that on Fluther, as in the wider America of today, people’s positions on key issues are very entrenched and nobody really listens to other sides. (Hence my question on this of a month or so ago.) After may years here of engaging hotly in debates, I now tend to shy away from them in favor of more productive pursuits.

Judi's avatar

Not college but Jr high. When my daughter was in forensics in HS I was so surprised at how lax it was compared to how professional our training was in Jr High. The rules and point system was much more clear.

bossob's avatar

When I was in school, debate was for the ‘smart’ kids. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. Listening to political radio talk shows has been a way for me to understand some debate basics. There are a few good hosts. The ones I enjoy the most are the ones with whom I disagree. Their rational arguments allow me to challenge my own positions, and I appreciate that opportunity.

I’ve gotten into vegetable gardening the last decade, and it’s been a chance to learn about and appreciate the value of peer reviewed research and papers. The lack of critical thinking by most backyard gardeners drives me crazy.

So yes, I agree with your assessment. Fluther does sometimes remind me of an academic atmosphere. Although I was glad to leave that college world behind, I have always looked for areas of interest to learn and grow, and I appreciate some of the logical arguments on Fluther whether I agree with them or not.

I would suggest that some ruffled feathers are caused by ideology that is adopted by folks who don’t bother to ask why. Their approach is less about education, and more about taking the easy way out when they confront gray areas in their lives. Being told what to believe and think seems natural to them. When challenged, they are confounded. I haven’t been around here long, but I haven’t seen many personal attacks. Mostly, I see responses taken personally.

Their responses are neither right nor wrong, but they aren’t productive. Maybe what you’re seeing is just part of a cycle, and Fluther is currently experiencing a large number of those type of people.

Sunny2's avatar

I got all the way through 4 years of college without doing much thinking. (I had mostly art and science classes with lots of lab time.) The one philosophy course I audited lost me with the argument about a falling tree making sound. In my practical mind, it was a matter of physics and friction and that was the end of it. I didn’t realize I could think until I hung around M.I.T. doing theater. The students discussions awakened my mind. I used my mind in grad school, mostly doing research papers. I still don’t like to argue much, but I can, if necessary.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

This is a GQ, @tom_g, but maybe I’m saying that as a person who has two college degrees and multiple certificates. Importantly, I earned a master’s degree at a school where all the classes were seminar based. The participation in debate was the most important part of the odd grading system they used. (St. John’s College)

I had vigorous debate in my undergraduate years as well. I was quick to question the professors and my fellow students. I learned not to take questions personally. I went to a parochial university for my BA, but we read widely and discussed many texts that ranged far outside our religious norms.

My life experience has also taught me to question myself and my ideas constantly. I’ve lived all over Asia and a bit of Europe. At the tender age of 20, this child of Western civilization was plopped down in the middle of the East, and I had to fend for myself. The essence of my being was uprooted. Nothing prepared me for the switch from a cultural background enshrining the individual to one where the group is vastly more important.

I am enamored of the great thinkers of the past and how they used dialogue and debate to cement ideas. I read a lot of those texts still. I practice questioning my own ideas. It’s second nature to me. I got it from my education, but I’m not sure which part of it came from where.

wundayatta's avatar

I’ve been debating all my life, but the only time I was on a team was in high school.

Perhaps debate teaches you how to argue with rules. But I’m skeptical. There are all different sets of rules, and some are official and some are not. So when people argue religion, part of the problem is that people are operating under different sets of rules. They don’t know this, so they both feel the other side is cheating, and things devolve from there.

The rules of science and the rules of religion are different. Knowledge is created differently. If you don’t know this, you think you mean the same thing when you say you know something, and then people get upset. People call each other stupid, and then the jigs up because people do not feel respected. Once that happens, there’s no point in talking.

Rules allow us to maintain respect for each other when we talk. If we aren’t using the same rules and we don’t know it, we’re screwed.

I have to say, that sometimes it is too hard to educate everyone about rules, and more fun just to let go and slam people because they don’t know what they are doing. It’s about as effective, because in most cases. you aren’t going to get people to understand how the rules are different.

Judi's avatar

Debate taught ne to look at things from other people’s point of view.

augustlan's avatar

I never went to college (I’m a high school drop out), but critical thinking has always just seemed like part of my nature. I was exposed to a brief bit of formal debate in junior high, but all that was really different about formal debate for me was the fact that you had to be civilized enough to wait your turn to speak.

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