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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Structured Academic Controversy

As the mother of a very argumentative teenager, I hate debate. That’s a little strong, and is an example of the categorical thinking I’m about to criticize. In reality, I’m sure there’s quite a bit of value to formal debates. Nevertheless, they seem to me to encourage black-and-white thinking and to undermine the best parts of talking about hard ideas: to gain deeper, more nuanced understandings of the issues, whatever those issues might be.

That’s why I was glad to see this Teachinghistory.org post on an alternative to classroom debate called “Structured Academic Controversy,” which the article defines as “discussion that moves students beyond either/or debates to a more nuanced historical synthesis.”

I can see this working for all sorts of Montana history topics, for example, the appropriate limits of free speech in wartime (see Chapter 16, “Montana and World War I,” of the Montana: Stories of the Land companion website for links to good information and primary sources).

If you try this approach in your classroom, let me know how it works.

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