School drops assignment for students to argue for and against The Taliban
A Virginia middle school assigned to some eighth graders the task of arguing in support of Afghanistan's Taliban in a United Nations Debate. But the assignment was dropped this morning because students and parents were uncomfortable with the exercise, school officials said.
The assignment was to be completed in a world geography class at Swanson Middle School in Arlington as part of a project that called for students to research different topics and then take opposing sides and debate the merits.
But some families became angry when they learned that some students would be arguing in support of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban, which harbored Osama bin Laden when it was control of Afghanistan’s government before being overthrown in a U.S. invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
The Taliban is now fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and some of the students at Swanson are members of military families.
“There is a sensitivity that 8th grade kids don’t have the maturity level to do this at this point,” said Linda Erdos, spokeswoman for the Arlington Public Schools. “... While we want kids to learn and to look at all sides, we don’t want them in that process to be put in a situation that their families are uncomfortable with, because then learning doesn’t hapen. That’s where we came to it.”
Though I’m sure some of you think it is preposterous for students to take the side of The Taliban, I think the assignment was an intriguing and legitimate exercise. Obviously nobody at Swanson was endorsing or excusing the Taliban but rather asking students to think about what motivates this country’s enemies.
Read below the message the school sent this morning to parents after I inquired about the assignment, and then tell me what you think, in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the message from Swanson Middle School:
Swanson United Nations Debates
Dear Eighth Grade Parents: Every year, eighth graders at Swanson Middle School participate in a multidisciplinary project in their English and world geography classes. Students work in collaborative groups to research an international conflict of their choosing and write persuasive speeches to argue before the "United Nations."
Unfortunately, one of the eight debate topics this year - the Taliban - has understandably distressed some of our students and families. Needless to say, because of the tragic events that have occurred in the world during the last decade as a result of this conflict, this was clearly a bad choice for a debate topic for students, and we apologize to the Swanson families and students for any distress this has caused. Our intent was never to endorse the cause of the Taliban, and we regret the distress this choice may have caused.
Recognizing the pain that has touched many of our families and neighbors due to the terrorist attacks on the United States and acknowledging the sensitive nature of the conflict in Afghanistan involving many of our dedicated members of the U.S. armed forces, we have eliminated this topic as part of the U.N. unit of study effective immediately.
Students involved in this particular topic will be choosing new topics to study today in class. We will be giving support in class and modifying some of the requirements in order to provide students with appropriate time to prepare for the U.N. Debates.
Please accept our sincere apologies. We genuinely regret the alarm and concern this situation has caused, and we will be discussing any changes that need to be made in this instructional unit to avoid a similar situation from occurring in the future.
Chrystal Forrester, Principal
Eric Tarquinio, 8 th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Christine Joy, 8 th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Background: The United Nations Debates at Swanson
Every year, students in eighth grade debate one another in front of guests who role play as U.N. judges. Typically, students address eight to ten unique world conflicts. Students work in small groups to prepare their position on one of the conflicts. After extensive research, students debate world geography students from the other eighth-grade team.
In preparation for the debates, students get a brief introduction to all the conflicts.
The roles (opening, first and second rebuttals and the closing) are assigned within the group, so each student knows what his or her job will be during the debate. The group then begins researching their particular conflict and sharing information as they prepare their position outlines. Students receive a checklist for the speech requirements from their world geography teachers along with a basic outline of what is expected for each of the group roles. Each group member writes his or her part of the presentation in advance with the understanding that those students constructing rebuttals will have to do some thinking on their feet.
In addition to learning about world regions and major world conflicts, students learn a lot about persuasive writing which is an important part of the eighth-grade English Language Arts curriculum.
The English and geography teachers work closely to develop the directions for the speech and to ensure that we use the same terminology in all of our classes. In addition, English teachers are working to enhance the persuasive techniques, technical writing, grammar, and proofreading, while the world geography teachers work to provide an authentic experience that makes persuasive writing relevant and motivates students to excel.
Students are provided with materials to scaffold instruction in this very challenging project. In reading classes, teachers will further support students in persuasive writing techniques, oral fluency, and use of voice. Students will also have extra practice to deliver their positions
Judges, for the most part, are members of the community from outside Swanson. They decide on a "winner" in each debate based upon the team who had the strongest support for an argument. This event provides students a unique opportunity to work cooperatively in groups while also being responsible for individual preparation. The event combines research, writing, and public speaking.
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| December 14, 2009; 11:07 AM ET
Categories: History | Tags: history assignment
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