Maybe We Can Get Along: A More Civil Society with Argumentation

Monday, August 8, 2016

I don’t remember my junior high science class as a temple of civilized discourse. I do remember my best friend, Jan, and I hurling our wittiest insults at the boy who sat right behind us. This did not seem to bother him. He gave as good as he got, and I hear he ended up as a successful dentist.

That said, I’ve never bought into the idea that things that don’t kill us make us stronger, especially when you’re a kid. Middle school can be a jungle, and life is tough at the bottom of the food chain.

Model for Scientific Practices (from NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education)

Model for Scientific Practices (from NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education)

So it seems like there’s no better—and more challenging—place than middle school to teach the protocols of reasoning and respect.  That’s what the Mi-STAR curriculum aims to do through argumentation—arguing from evidence—which is incorporated in the Next Generation Science Standards.

“Defending your position is fundamental,” says Chris Geerer, who teaches science at Parcells Middle School in Grosse Pointe Woods. “We want our kids to think logically, and for years we’ve asked kids to do that. What’s different about the new standards, about argumentation, is that they do it civilly and don’t throw their emotions into everything.”

Sixth graders aren’t the only ones who could benefit from a little civility, she noted, especially during this election year.

“Our country is so divided now,” Geerer said. “We are desperately in need of people who can have different points of view and discuss them without taking offense, and that’s a big part of what the new standards are all about.”

She attended a Mi-STAR workshoChris Geererp in July, calling it “a conversion experience.”

“I’ve come to appreciate what Michigan Tech and Mi-STAR are doing to educate students who are scientifically literate and able to apply scientific concepts in their real life,” said Geerer. “It’s been really fun to work with such visionary, smart people. Plus, nobody ever treats teachers this well. It’s been a really great experience for us.”

“The Mi-STAR curriculum is going to make all of our lives a lot better,” she predicted.

Her best hope? That her students take those lessons of logic and civility to heart and apply them as they grow into tomorrow’s citizens.

“In every aspect of life, that would be a beautiful thing,” she said. “If everyone did that, we’d have world peace.”

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Mi-STAR was founded in 2015 through generous support provided by the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. Mi-STAR has also received substantial support from the National Science Foundation, the MiSTEM Advisory Council through the Michigan Department of Education, and Michigan Technological University.