Debate On Demand in AP Lang

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This year in AP Lang I have been experimenting with different forms of what I call On Demand Debate. I've never been one for traditional but I like the exercise of taking a position and sticking to it. I remember many wonderful late night conversations in college debating questions for the ages. Debate challenged my thinking and I learned how to hear new ideas and to play the devil's advocate.
This week we began unit 4- Gender and Language. In addition to introducing the research paper the kids will be doing over the next two months, we also spent the last few days talking about sex vs. gender, taking the BEM test and digging into the acceptance and popularization of "they" as a non-gender-specific pronoun. Some great conversations were had and I could tell that students were beginning to stretch their thinking.  
Mid week I asked them to write a 1 paragraph blog post (all my students have been keeping a blog this year for posting work and responding to peer work) on whether or not we should have gender. This morning, one of our science teachers, who I had consulted about gender and plant life and how terminology is used in science, let me know that one of my kids had come in this morning asking her what she thought about the topic. The good thinking was and is happening.

So, this afternoon for our Debate on Demand I took students through the following steps.

  1. I introduced to additional articles on they and gave students 15 minutes to read and annotate.
  2. In 10 groups of 3, students were given 10 minutes to craft a definitive position statement that has a clear thesis addressing the following prompt:  Should 'they' be adopted by institutions of higher learning as an option for all people?
  3. After 10 minutes, each group selected a speaker and we went around the room, each group member standing and reading their position statement. Here are a few:

Group One
In our increasingly diverse world, more and more people are beginning to challenge the gender binary. In the workplace and education, transgender people are cast out and discriminated against. Like we came to accept immigrants in the 19th century, we must accept non-binary people, and respect their choices to be independent by allowing them to choose to use the “they” pronoun in all institutions of higher education.

Group Two
I think that “they” should be adopted by all the institution of higher learning as an option for all people because the word “they” doesn’t restrict genders and allows the user to freely label or be labeled. Though the word “they” sounds out of place in a sentence, it is fact grammatically correct and it should not be interpreted for its proper use in a sentence; but for the point it is trying to convey which is to take the feelings of others into account when addressing them. Using singular they is both grammatically correct and is also courteous.  As Davey Shlasko stated, “At the least, you won’t be an asshole to your genderqueer friends. At most, we just might change the world.”

Group Three
We believe that “they” should be adopted by all institutes of higher learning as an option for all people because every individual should be able to identify themselves however they please. Looking back at statistics generally trans individuals prefer this pronoun because they identify themselves as things other than male or female. According to “HOW USING ‘THEY’ AS A SINGULAR PRONOUN CAN CHANGE THE WORLD""...other people use "they" as a gender-neutral singular alternative, and this has proved comparatively easy for trans allies to respect.” Although the term 'they' is seen as grammatically incorrect, it allows for those who don’t side with either male or female to select what they want to be referred as.

After the first round of shares, each group got to cast a vote for the position they thought were the strongest. My class split the vote between three groups. Each group shared one more time. The winner by a landslide was this one:

 Freedom and equality are the cornerstone of American society and government. The grand idea that runs this nation is that individuals should be able to make their own choices and their freedom should be allowed so long as it does not infringe upon the freedom of others and the principles of equality. Taking that into account whether or not some agree with people’s gender identity choices is somewhat inconsequential. Since whether or not we agree with others we must as Americans respect their right to make their own choices. In sum, institutions of higher learning should provide for students the option to self-select their gender identity. We believe that this is consistent with the principles of freedom and equality upon which our nation is founded.

It was exciting to see them work with the content, collaborate to create a sound position and to take a risk in presenting their ideas. There are so many reasons why I teach but getting to end a long teaching day with this class, was one of the best reasons. Debate on Demand works, let me know if you try it!


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