Just returned from the first fantastic workshop on debating and critical thinking held in Rabat, Morocco. Twenty students from both the ILCS (Institute for Leadership and Communication Studies) and Mohammad V University in Rabat participated in the three day basic workshop that culminated in a night of public debate on issues facing Morocco stemming from globalization. Between the two public debates, Dr. Sanae Elmoudden, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric from St. John's University provided commentary on the arguments in the debate. She is an expert on theories of globalization, and her comments on the debate enlightened both the debaters and the audience. A spirited exchange of conversation and questions concluded the workshop, along with the presentation of certificates.
This workshop represents the first event in the new debate partnership between ILCS and St. John's University Debate. What we hope to accomplish is twofold: First, we hope to begin a new exchange between the faculty and students of both St. John's and ILCS. This exchange will begin with debating and extend to the fields of intercultural communication, political communication, and religious communication studies. It may extend into an annual exchange of Moroccan students with St. John's students to do debate tours or participate in BP tournaments in the United States.
Secondly, and a bit further down the road, I hope we are able to make Rabat a center for debate in North Africa, hosting a tournament regularly or a workshop for students from that part of the world who want to improve their debating and critical reasoning skills. The potential is there to have a nice debate event of some kind as a regular occurrence.
My impressions of the event were varied. I was amazed and impressed by the students. We didn't have much time, but we accomplished a lot. For the first time in teaching debate for me, I had a session of all women who wanted to discuss how to debate about rights. I was also very impressed and proud of the two students, Tim & Alisha, who I brought along to help run the workshop. They were excellent mentors and teachers to these people who were just discovering debate.
The major difference in this workshop compared to teaching in the US was the difference in the tone and angle of questions - the students at this workshop wanted to know whether they were "right" or finding what was "true" about what they were advocating, whereas in the US most students I have encountered are much more interested to know if what they are doing is within the scope of the rules - i.e. "Is this allowed?" "If I argue this way is it against the rules?" I found this to be fascinating.
The hospitality and warmth of the people hosting us and making the workshop possible was only matched by the intellectual depth and passion the students had for debate, something they just discovered but it seemed like they had been waiting for it. As the old Chinese Ch'uan proverb goes, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."
I hope to make this workshop a regular part of our work at St. John's in the teaching and learning of Debate. Thanks to Dr. Benhallam, Dr. Lemtouni, and Marlene Henny for running such an excellent institute and making our work a real pleasure. The photos should give you a sense of the work that went on at ILCS during our short visit. There were many students who argued for only 2 or 3 minutes on the first day who, at the public debate, were regularly speaking 7 minutes. Imagine what they will be able to do in a month or two! I am excited for my return trip, and hope that this is the start of something really special. It certainly feels like it is.