Should Peru’s government continue its ban on genetically modified organisms? Should it limit the development of squatter communities? Should Peru continue to pay motorists to retire older vehicles from Lima’s streets? Is tourism a great thing for Peru? And are Peruvians and North Americans basically the same at heart?
These provocative questions were discussed and debated by Goshen College students during a recent afternoon at Casa Goshen. SST Co-Directors Judy Weaver and Richard R. Aguirre developed the idea of having the students explore these issues in an academic exercise inspired by the radio program “Intelligence Squared U.S.,” Oxford-style debates heard on National Public Radio.
For the Goshen version, teams of students were asked to take and defend positions on contemporary issues and also attempt to rebut the other side during three spirited rounds of arguments. Richard, who served as moderator, asked team members challenging questions to test their positions. Student audience members also contributed questions. After final summations, students voted on which side did the best job. The winner was determined by which team persuaded the greatest number of audience members to abandon their original positions and adopt the winning team’s position.
In the end, and based on the greatest number of audience members switching sides, students concluded that: Peru’s ban on GMOs should continue; the government should limit further squatter communities; tourism is not great for Peru; and Peruvians and North Americans are more different than similar. On the question of removing older vehicles, there were no changes in positions, so the debate ended in a tie.
Students rated the debates as one of their most enjoyable and informative learning activities. One student wrote that the debates were “a good exploration of current issues in Peru. It was challenging, but I learned a lot.” Another wrote, “Incredibly fun and brought out a lot of stimulating conversation as well as ideas.”