Photo By: Courtesy of Corinne Finegan Machatzke
Fifth-grader Genna Landi states her argument on taxes to the opposing team during Almond School’s recent debate.
Bostonians in 1773 provided an answer to the question “Should Great Britain have taxed the colonists?” via the Boston Tea Party. More recently, before the April 15 filing deadline for U.S. taxes, fifth-graders at Almond School explored both sides of the issue through a series of formal debates conducted gradewide as part of their social studies curriculum.
Many students reported that studying colonial taxation via debate, as opposed to more traditional means, helped them to better understand that period in American history. They said they found it eye-opening to debate a point of view that they didn’t necessarily support.
Lead parent and debate organizer Scott Graeser described another outcome of the debates that surprised a fair number of students. They started to understand that Britain had some valid reasons to tax the Colonists, he said, “although perhaps Britain didn’t go about it the best of ways.”
For some, Graeser added, there was also the realization of how different the world would have been today if the Colonists and Britain had sat down and worked their differences out.
Graeser said many of the students were nervous prior to the debates, unsure of what to expect, but afterward they said it “wasn’t that bad” or “was actually kind of fun.”
“Then they started to debate who won the debate,” he said.
Joe Chan, fifth-grade and social studies teacher, agreed with the assessment of the debate’s benefits.
“The debates provided a wonderful opportunity for students to actively engage in and use their critical thinking skills,” he said. “(The debates) provided real-world experiences that the students will use in their everyday lives.”
Chan noted that through the debates, students learned better methods to prepare, organize and present information.
Volunteer parents coached and facilitated the debates, with topics related to the students’ social studies class. The debates aligned with district and Common Core standards in the areas of Persuasive/Argumentative writing, Public Speaking and Social Studies.