Our View: Considering both sides; what a concept
We were intrigued this week by the report on the recent success achieved by Nevada Union High School’s debate team.
The Miners, who were blessed by support from their booster club in the annual “Miner Disputes” fundraiser on Thursday, recently wrapped a whirlwind tour of competition in tournaments that took them to Salt Lake City, Sherman Oaks, Stanford University and San Francisco State.
Congratulations to the team members who represented NU, and western Nevada County for that matter, in such fine fashion.
Along with being impressed by the results, we were also struck by how these students went about their business. And we think there’s something to be learned from it.
During Thursday’s “Miner Disputes,” team members argued both sides of local and national issues: Should the Centennial Dam be built? Should the federal government withdraw funding from “sanctuary cities?” Is China a threat to the United States?
Yes, those are heady topics that require research from those debating in order to make their case. But making things even more difficult is the fact the students don’t know which side of each issue they’ll be charged with arguing until they arrive at the competition. Therefore, each team member must be well read on both the “affirmative” and the “negative” in order to be successful.
Think about that for a minute.
When these students step up to speak in favor of the Centennial Dam, they must have a strong grasp of the arguments against it. In order to aptly address aspects of the project that will be raised by the opposition, they have to fully consider what “the other side” will suggest. And as the actual debate takes stage, they must listen closely to what their opponent is saying in order to prepare for their response.
This exercise requires research, critical thinking and active listening.
In our current political climate, we are regularly rushing to our positions — typically aligned with our party preference — start with the opinion and reach for facts that will support it. But members of the debate team must start with the facts in order to fully understand the opinions on both sides of the issue. They don’t dismiss a viewpoint because it’s a conservative or liberal perspective. They don’t shout over each other to “win” the contest on volume rather than points. And there’s certainly no ad hominem attacks or trolling when a pair of debate teams get together.
These students don’t have time for any of that nonsense, as they marshal their arguments through thoughtful consideration of the pros and cons, which likely helps them respect the fact that people can see things differently. And it doesn’t make them bad people. What a concept.
Such an approach improves the individual and their ability to think. It fosters competition, helping to prepare for the wins and losses of real life. And it hopefully helps improve the culture of the community by producing conversations based in facts and knowledge rather than emotions and political perspective.
Perhaps the rules of debate are a potential antidote to the prevalence of “fake news” in what we’ve referred to as the “age of opinion.”
If fear is based in ignorance and the unknown, and we are forced from the comfort of our bubbles and echo chambers, we’d more easily gain a broader perspective and be less likely to feel threatened by opposing viewpoints. Maybe then our college campuses can once again be a “marketplace of ideas,” where dissenting opinions are heard and tolerated rather than shutting down the marketplace before any ideas are actually shared.
No doubt Nevada Union High School’s debate team deserves a round of applause for their achievements. And in the course of their winning, they’ve also been doing a great deal of learning. And we, as a community, would do well to learn and use the skills that have led the Miners to become so successful.
The weekly Our View column represents the viewpoint of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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What must our middle school history teachers think of what’s happened to Christopher Columbus?