Around the world, we invest enormous quantities of Financial, Human, and Social Capital in education. Why? What do we hope to get from it? How can we measure that? Whom can we trust to give us honest answers, rather than merely promote a particular agenda?
In particular, is the purpose of higher education to:
1. Learn the hard technical skills necessary to land a job
2. Develop the soft “human” skills necessary for a meaningful career
3. Cultivate the habits of mind necessary for a fulfilling life
And if there is more than one purpose, how do we balance or integrate them in terms of curriculum and funding?
Truth Bowl is a structured dialogue, halfway between competitive debate and a panel discussion, designed to model and train people in “productive disagreement.” TRUTH is sometimes interpreted as the acronym “Teaching Respectful Understanding Through Hospitality.”
Two Panelists compete in front of a Jury to address a Challenge, composed of a Question and an Objective. Members of the Jury award panelists Points for clarity and thoughtfully addressing disagreements. At the end of each Round, the Jury rewards the panelist who most helped them comprehend the Challenge with the title “Domaĝanto” (Esperanto for “Question Tamer”).
Challenge Question for V2 of Truth Bowl (the ad hoc version)
You are a professor of philosophy at a large university. You’ve just received a panicky phone call from your former schoolmate Pat, the chair of humanities at a struggling liberal arts college out East. You vaguely remember hearing the school brought in an investment banker alum as president to pull off a turnaround. Pat informs you that said banker has invited a controversial book author to campus as a publicity stunt, and in one hour Pat is expected to face that author in some sort of debate.
Pat (and you) have never read the book or heard the author speak. However, many of your peers consider him a right-wing reactionary with the ear of Trump, who wants to abolish modern education and replace universities with some sort of theocratic communes. Previous invitations for him to speak at major universities have been rescinded due to outraged protests by students and faculties. That’s probably why this college president jumped at the chance to gain notoriety as the first school to host the author — and didn’t tell anyone until the last minute.
Several colleagues have urged Pat to quit and boycott the event, since it feels like a setup; better to be a martyr than risk legitimizing someone who seems both willing and able to destroy everything they stand for.
There isn’t much time. The only background material you have to go on is one relatively balanced book review.
Challenge Question: What advice would you give Pat, and why?
Options include (but are not limited to):
– Directly engaging with / critiquing (the ideas of) the author
– Proposing a debate format that would ensure Pat’s views get a fair hearing, despite the lack of preparation (Pat has enough authority to dictate the format, but not enough to escape the debate )
– Providing a clear rationale why it is Pat’s moral duty to boycott the event