An experience I’ve been meaning to share since the end of December concerns the Human Terrain System (HTS). Dr. Henry Delcore at California State University, Fresno, invited me to act as a judge for a class debate. The question of debate was, “Should the American Anthropological Association (the main professional organization for anthropologists in the US) discourage anthropologists from working in the Human Terrain System program?”
The debate was part of their final requirements for passing the course, and I thought it was a new and interesting method of engaging the students. It was evident that it was also effective in getting the students to really research not only the HTS system, but also techniques and etiquette of formal debate. One reason it was probably effective is that if you weren’t fully prepared with a firm knowledge of the information, it would have been pretty embarrassing when it came your turn to speak! The students had excitement, healthy competition, and seemed sincerely interested in the topic and task at hand.
I was very impressed because the student’s arguments were so good that I assumed that they got to pick sides ahead of time and that they chose the team that represented their own personal viewpoints. I found out after the debate was over that the students were asked their personal viewpoints ahead of time and purposely placed on the team to argue the alternative viewpoint! Kudos to the students for being so objective and convincing even when they were debating a viewpoint they did not personally support! In addition to this, I found myself constantly analyzing which team was in the lead, and I found that it swayed many times. In the end, the team arguing the negative came out ahead, but it was certainly a close call.
One of many major points of arguments came when the team arguing the negative viewpoint said that the HTS system is a new program and therefore has the opportunity to make positive changes in our military and in reducing harm. They argued that it was up to those anthropologists accepting positions on the HTS teams to develop the HTS program into a program that is positive, transparent, and which upholds high ethical standards. The affirmative argued that this was not possible because of environment and situation, and due to the fact that the anthropologists would be associated with the military, dress in military attire, and would have to carry weapons. This, they argued, prevented the anthropologists’ ability to be seen as a neutral party. The debate went back and forth, both sides making strong points.
I believe that activities like this are such a great way to capture the student’s attention and to get them really passionate about researching a topic. As a former and future student, I know that I am certainly more satisfied, excited even, when an instructor implemented new methods of graded activities rather than just sticking to the typical lecture, reading, examination routine. I was so impressed with the students’ excitement, I even found myself wishing to join the debate!