Although I have plenty of things to do in preparation for my first Thanksgiving with my partner's family, I feel the need to take a few moments to gush about the documentary Resolved and recommend it to anyone who identifies as an educator. Because I want you to see it, I will not say too much about what happens in this documentary about a high school extracurricular activity (and course in some, usually affluent schools): the policy debate team. Suffice it to say that the majority of very well-to-do, largely private-school attending students are in it to win it. They talk a mile a minute--called "spreading," short for speed reading--and accumulate giant bins
of information, carried to tournaments on dollies and, in at least one instance, skateboards. If the debaters have money to get to the tournaments, can access sophisticated databases, are well organized, and/or have a photographic memory, this information becomes a weapon that they can thrust upon their opponents in the blink of an eye to win either the affirmative or negative side of an issue.
Enter Richard Funches and Louis Blackwell, two black students from the "inner city" of North Long Beach, California. Now, one could argue that the framing of the documentary definitely has a kind of "downtrodden as savior" feel to it. But to pull out a favorite W. E. B. Du Bois concept, one could also assert, and I would like to, that these two youth bring a sorely needed double consciousness into the policy debate arena, and educational activities more generally. They draw on Paulo Freire's ideas to ask their opponents if the structure of high school policy debate does anything to improve the conditions of people's lives. In one particularly poignant scene, Louis pushes someone from the opposing team to admit that the argument he is making will have no relevance to his life or community once he finishes the round apart from advancing or eliminating him from the tournament.
As I watched Resolved, I kept thinking about how vehemently some of my students (and their faculty advisors) resist critically examining institutionalized norms, particularly how those norms favor some while excluding, marginalizing, and/or alienating a whole bunch of others. I therefore especially appreciated when Louis, in tears, decried some judges' unwillingness to examine their complicity in advancing a style of discourse and institution that often does more to reinforce hierarchies and divisions than to promote meaningful learning and dialogue. Richard and Louis intimately experienced what happens when a stunningly compelling--and just--rationale slams into beliefs that those in power (in this case debate tournament judges) hold dear. And, because I love an opportunity to Blingee the rulers of our land, I will mention that Samuel Alito also made a cameo appearance in the film. You may be shocked to find out that he welcomed more diverse, uh, consumers and clients into the debate community so long as they played by the (his?) rules.
(And if you are shocked, please, please read more about Alito at even this decidedly non-partisan website.)
Given my own anger and frustration as of late at the institution paying my monthly bills, I was pleased to happen upon Francine Kelley's commentary (thank you, Carla) called "What is your net effect?" She notes,
If our ultimate goal is peace and harmony for humanity, then the very notion of 'fighting' for something is incongruent. Fighting implies aggression, and aggression may result in surrender and domination, but these are not the same as peace. Anger met with anger breeds more anger. Aggression met with aggression results in more aggression. Judgment of another feeds a sense of separation. Besides the obvious effect on others, anger, aggression and judgment also constrict the individual who is expressing them.
This wise woman also asks us to think about how often our opposition to something eclipses a strong vision of what we are for. On this day of gratitude--and grieving for the senseless genocide of "American" indigenous peoples--I am going to keep trying to face my inner self with courage, honesty, and compassion, believing, like Kelley, that such work will help to create world in which we have "no need to 'fight' for anything at all." That is the definition of peace after all, isn't it?