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Big Mouths, Big Ideas



This weekend, Harvard hosted one of the largest high school debate tournaments in the country. Hordes of eager high schoolers descended on fair Cambridge. Their mouths were like loaded guns-big dangerous and ready to shoot off at a moment's notice.

Two types of debate were offered at the tournament. Policy debaters were the ones with bad posture, developed from lugging around gigantic crates of documents. They spoke so rapidly their tongues and lips suffered friction burns.

Far more interesting to me were the Lincoln-Douglas or L-D debaters. L-D debate, as "values" debate, is more philosophical (and more comprehensible) than policy debate.

The resolution for the Lincoln-Douglas tournament was "That the United States is well served by the maintenance of a separate culture for the deaf." IN arguing this resolution, many high school students (including the two eventual champions) offered intelligent and insightful analysis.

High school debaters are supposed to be some of America's best and brightest. They came to compete at Harvard from top schools across the nation. But for every budding John Rawls at the tournament there were many more students who demonstrated a woeful lack of knowledge about U.S. history, politics and culture, as well as the English language.

One debater, in arguing against a separate culture for the deaf, argued for the value of equality. Fair enough. "Separate is inherently unequal," the would-be constitutional scholar declared, his voice trembling importantly. "This is what the Supreme Court decided on the issue of slavery."

Another debater, attempting to connect language and culture in an interesting way, argued that cultures are defined entirely by the language that members of the culture utilize.

"The deaf use American Sign Language," he said, "just as Hispanics speak Spanish and African Americans speak African."

The debaters, standing for platitudinous values like "justice" and "equality," became tiresome quickly. After judging countless rouds of debate, many judges began to fall asleep. But some judges were kept awake by exciting and original debate cases.

One daring debate, in opposing separate culture for the deaf, upheld "extreme social Darwinism" as his core value.

"Deaf people are a threat to American society," he said. "We must eliminate the deaf. They slow down the p[process of evolution."

This person's opponent was such a weak debater that he could not even refute this poor excuse for a case. He challenged social Darwinism with arguments based on social contract theory. When asked what the social contract was, however, he was speechless.

My question is a simple one. Snide liberals might call it simple-minded, but I think it's quite reasonable. Liberals want to teach our children many new and wonderful things. They want to teach them about different and distant cultures. They want to bring sex education into our classrooms. What I would like to know is how we can justify spending limited time and resources on teaching our children multicultural niceties when they don't even understand the basics of American history.

School budgets are limited and shrinking rapidly, and there are only so many hours in a school day. We can wish all we want for more money and more time, but it is unlikely that hard realities will change anytime soon. As a result, we must make tough choices about what gets taught.

Thinkers on the left deplore the poor state of American education, but refuse to take the steps necessary to guarantee a quality education that focuses on essentials. What takes more courage--to determine what truly needs to be taught in our high schools, or to naively beg for more funding in order to teach everything?

Liberals try to pass their attitude off as "Open-mindedness," or as genuine concern for American students. But when it comes to education, their cowardice is shameful.

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