Perspectives: Schooled by Mr. Jackson’s debate class

OPINION – As an observer of current events, my faith in humanity sometimes wanes. For this reason, I’m thankful when something happens to restore that faith—even temporarily.

The students in Josh Jackson’s debate class at Dixie High School recently gave me plenty of reasons to feel grateful. Josh had been a guest on my radio show and has frequently shared thought-provoking material with me.

When he asked me to come make a presentation to his debaters, I asked what subject he preferred that I share. He asked me to bring whatever I felt might be of greatest worth to his pupils. I thought about this as I prepared my message.

It’s not like the future of mankind would hang on the topic I chose to share. Still, I wanted to offer something that wouldn’t just fill the allotted 45 minutes, but that might actually resonate with them.

Ultimately, I decided to encourage these young men and women to become clear and independent thinkers by choosing to be life-long learners. As debaters, they were already well on their way to being able to thoughtfully process competing points of view. I challenged them to take their thinking to a deeper level by becoming habitual readers of great books.

I shared with them real world examples of how the biggest questions we struggle with today have been wrestled with by great thinkers who lived before us. Human nature has remained essentially unchanged through the ages. This is how we train our minds to think beyond the artificial limits of conventional wisdom.

The pathway to this level of thinking does not require mentally partnering with a particular political point of view. In fact, the last thing these students needed was to be subjected to the toxic effects of ideology.

Each of us is more than qualified to examine the world and to make our own assumptions without being chained to a political ideology. Sadly, there are many who have been falsely led to believe that they must identify with a given party dogma or wear certain labels.

We all know individuals who are good and decent friends, coworkers, neighbors, or clients until they encounter something contrary to their ideology. That’s when they become confrontational, filled with anger and nearly impossible to deal with.

If we wish to remain good and decent people we cannot employ similar scorched earth tactics. However, when the time is right, we can do our best to gently lead them back out of the realms of political barbarism.

Paul Rosenberg suggests saying something like this:

Ron, you’re a good neighbor and a nice guy … except when you talk about politics; then, you’re scary. It’s not your opinions – I may disagree, but I can understand how you’d reach those conclusions – it’s that you change, and you defend them like you’re at war. As a friend, I’d really like for you to step away from that kind of political identity – it diminishes you.

When this is done out of genuine concern, we are sometimes able to inspire a bit of personal introspection that cannot occur when returning railing for railing.

The way in which we approach learning can have real impact upon whether we become independent thinkers or ideologues.

When Stephen Pratt was mentoring me, he introduced me to the difference between heuristic and eristic learning. Heuristic learning is built upon seeking truth — whatever that truth may be. This requires original research and tireless effort to discover and learn the facts.

Eristic learning is based in fighting with words and utilizing specious or flawed reasoning. In this model of learning, achieving victory is more important than discovering truth. It absolves the individual from any personal responsibility to seek truth by virtue of the ideology they hold.

It presumes that anyone who disagrees is the enemy.

Whether we approach life with a heuristic or eristic viewpoint is greatly influenced by how we learn and whether or not we choose to combine our identity with an ideology.

This is why I encouraged Mr. Jackson’s debate class to approach their lives with a commitment to think independently and to never stop learning.

This week I received a folder filled with letters from each of the students. Among them was one thanking me for teaching the students how to think rather than what to think.

I find it encouraging to realize that this is what Josh has been teaching them all along.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, StGeorgeUtah.com Inc., 2014, all rights reserved

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