We NEED to Talk about In-Class Debates

By Anita Moyale, G11


School is supposed to be a safe space that promotes the idea of empowering students in a “caring, inclusive” and “international environment”. But in certain classes, this mission statement isn’t being carried out. Have you ever walked into a lesson and been told that you are going to have a debate? Has said debate ever been on topics such as the legalisation of gay marriage or the abolishment of slavery? I can confidently – and probably accurately – guess every secondary student’s answers to those questions. It may seem normal to discuss subjects like these because of their ‘controversiality’, but that’s only because the discussion of them has been normalised when it really shouldn’t have been. If our school truly cares about providing inclusive conditions for its students, then why are certain ones forced to sit through a full 80 minute period and listen to their peers debate whether their identity is valid or not — whether their existence is valid or not? Being a minority is already hard enough in today’s age of xenophobia, being put under a microscope and analysed is in no way going to help with that. It just makes it so much worse; imagine being discriminated against by certain communities, maybe even by the one you live in, and then coming to school just to be dissected by the community that is supposed to accept you regardless of who you are and/or what you identify with.

Not only that, but these types of discussions also negatively impact the participants of the debate; they are allowed to talk about the validity of others’ lives – they are shown that it is okay to do so. Most students during such talks, hopefully, say things such as “Gay marriage is okay!” or “slavery should never have been a thing”; doing so gains them respect from their peers. It shouldn’t. Advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, POC rights — human rights, should be a basic expectation in an international school like ours. If applause is given to the students who do so, this promotes performative activism or ‘slacktivism’: “activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause” (Wikipedia).

This is not something that impressionable youth should be taking away from their classes. If we each genuinely intend to make a difference, we have to be able to understand society’s issues and then feel inspired to fight for change. A skill that is tremendously important, especially now with the world’s influential social justice issues. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and Pro-choice are such a significant part of today’s society, especially with influencers on apps such as Instagram and Tik Tok using their platforms to educate and bring light to them. We can’t be the type of school in which students learn more about being accepting and kind through social media than through their academic learning. We have to be proactive in teaching students these habits — ones that will allow them to, as Gandhi said, “be the change they want to see in the world.”

As a school, our goal is to “learn together, grow together, each make a difference”. I’m going to say it now, that this isn’t the way to do so. At all. Instead, topics of academic conversations should be about our individual values or morals. Things such as the death penalty and the trolley problem are extremely controversial ideas that can be discussed without hurting others — invalidating them. This is why a change needs to be made: because what is currently being taught does exactly that. But ISPP represents so much more — so much better; it represents equality, acceptance, open-mindedness. So it’s about time that this simple yet greatly misleading activity be completely eradicated from the academic environment; school teaches us the pythagorean theorem and the structure of glucose molecules, but it also should teach us what’s right and what’s wrong. If it’s accepted in school, kids will go out and do the same thing with their friends. Having opinions on someone’s choices is okay (emphasis on opinions, don’t be rude), but not when it comes to things that aren’t a choice — e.g. being a certain race or sexuality. Talking about these things may lead to discrimination: something that has serious consequences such as bullying.


Do you see it now? How damaging the simplest things can be? These seemingly harmless debates can shape two kinds of students depending upon their role (participant or topic of discussion): indifferent ones, or insecure ones. Granted, these kinds of activities affect certain individuals more than others, but we need to make a change for those that are hurt by them. Once we do so, we are that much closer to being the school that learns, and grows together. But not before. Definitely not before.


Sourced image:

Lal, Deeksha. “Adjusting to US Classroom Culture.” Office of International Services, 2019, ois.usc.edu/adjusting-to-u-s-classroom-culture/.

 704 total views,  1 views today

1 thought on “We NEED to Talk about In-Class Debates

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.