Argue, Why Don’t You?

We had an excellent class recently (my students and I) on how to define markets.

That’s a whole other blogpost in itself, and I have a friend to thank for helping me discover that the legal world’s definition of markets is very different from the one that economics textbooks supply us with (if at all they do so in the first place).

But the students and I had a lot of fun talking about how to define a market, and at one point of time, the class turned into a very passionate debate about a particular case. The debate lasted for about an hour, a lot of fun was had, and all was well with the world.

After the class, one of the students came up to me to apologize. They wanted to apologize because they had argued with me, and had ended up debating about an issue.

Which, as you might guess, was just too horrible a thought for me to contemplate. What a world to live in – one in which we have a culture where students come up to apologize for having debated an issue in class.

I’d much rather live in a world where students come up to apologize for not having participated in a debate in class – that ought to be the default, dammit. A student who has the enthusiasm, the passion, the willingness and the desire to go up against the prof in a spirited debate, dishing out as good as they get is a great example of an awesome participant in a class discussion! Why apologize for it – that’s your job as a student!

And the reason this needs to be said is because if you are a student reading this, you need to know that arguing in class is A Very, Very Good Thing.

And you don’t have to take my word for it: listen to Adam Grant make the point very persuasively.

  1. Argue as much as possible in class, but always respectfully.
  2. Disagreement is fine (it’s great!), disrespect is not.
  3. That cuts both ways – it is equally fine for the prof to disagree with you, but always respectfully.
  4. Don’t argue to prove that you are right, argue to learn the truth. (Adam makes the same point early on in that podcast)
  5. I don’t always succeed at this, and I probably fail more often than I succeed.
  6. But I work at this, and try and get better at it, and I invite you to do the same.
  7. Arguing with somebody forces you to make your arguments and line of thinking clearer, and that alone is worth the debate. Ditto for writing.
  8. Adam makes the point that growing up in a household where your parents are arguing respectfully is good for you, and I’m happy to report that my wife and I have unknowingly been great parents in this regard.
  9. Adam has a great line in the podcast: the pen might not be mightier than the sword, but it lasts for longer. Whatay.

But bottom-line: please, pretty please. Argue more!