Curricular Components 7: Dine With Two Minds

Dine With Two Minds. Cause you know Two Minds are better than one.

Last year, our first Curriculum Corner post explained a lot of our new curricular elements that we used at VBI in 2017. We’re very pleased with the results of these programs, and so have elected to keep all of these developments for 2018.

However, that doesn’t mean the quest to improve our debate curriculum should cease, and indeed, we believe that improvements can always be made to camp curriculum. This year, we’re happy to announce an update to our curricular programming. This new program builds off of a 2017 curricular element and is called Dine With Two Minds.

Last year, we described Dine With a Mind in the original introduction post as follows:

“Dine With a Mind: There are already lots of ways for students to meet and talk with instructors at debate camp. However, much of that time is formalized in ways that are not always optimal for getting to know an instructor and really picking their brain on a tough issue for an extended period. The Dine With a Mind Program is designed to fill that lacuna. It allows students, either individually or in a group, to sign up to get a meal with an instructor. Talking over a meal provides a wonderful and less formal context for fellowship with others. I know that many of the most engaging and challenging conversations I’ve had with students about issues of debate and philosophy occurred in the context of a meal. By providing an official program, we hope to guarantee that every student who wants to receives such an opportunity can do so, at no additional cost to them.”

Dine With Two Minds builds off of the same idea. It allows students in a group to sign up to get a meal with two instructors. These two instructors will then engage in two sides of a controversy in debate over the course of the meal. They will debate over different debate strategies, theoretical issues in debate, substantive content disagreements within debate literature, and much more. The issues that will be informally debated are ultimately up to the instructors who participate, but we envision some of the topics will be issues such as whether utilitarianism or deontology is the correct ethical framework, whether conditionality is good or bad in Lincoln-Douglas debate, whether reformist or radical politics is best for liberation, and other prominent controversy areas that pertain to debate. Students are welcome to participate in such debates to a limited degree or are simply welcome to just sit there and listen to the exchange.

In a follow-up post describing supplementary student-staff interaction, Marshall argued that the benefit of Dine With a Mind is that it can allow increased learning:

“Dine with a Mind allows that longer dialogue. Because you can talk with students over a meal in a more conversational context it allows for a slower and more deliberate instructional setting. I have had lots of engaging and challenging conversations with students, but many of the most challenge and engaging occurred in the context of a shared meal. Indeed, there is something deeply significant to human culture about the shared meal, though I don’t think this post is the place to delve into it.”

We think that Dine With Two Minds will also increase learning by facilitating debates in a more conversational context over a longer period of time than other activities at camp. Our hope is that by having seasoned debate experts seriously engage in disagreements within contemporary debate, it will provide an opportunity for students to think about those disagreements in a new way as well as equip students to defend their own positions more effectively. While debate camp does offer the ability to be exposed to a wide array of new ideas and varied perspectives, rarely do students get the opportunity to watch qualified instructors test the viability of these positions against others over a prolonged period of time. At best, this occurs in an informal setting like during lab when two lab leaders might disagree over an issue and organize lab debates over that issue or occasionally during Socrates Hour when two instructors might have a debate over something. However, with Dine With Two Minds, students will really get the opportunity to see both sides of an issue be debated by staff members in a way that usually students don’t have the luxury of witnessing. We got this idea from watching public debates by intellectuals such as the Intelligence Squared Debates, where they organize public debates over important issues in society. Similar to how those debates produce a unique form of education over controversies in society, we hope that Dine With Two Minds will help students think more about issues in debate.