A Well-Reasoned Debate
Several weeks before the project debuted in classrooms, we tested parts of the Case of Plastics with a focus group of CHF staff members. We gave each participant a character and asked them to work in randomly assigned groups to develop a compromise regulation. The result was intense and informative. Deeply committed to their characters, the participants clung tenaciously to their victory objectives, argued over each point, and struggled to find common ground.
After this experience, I expected the students to fight just as hard for victory. After all, who doesn’t want to win? Yet the Palisades High School students reacted differently. In their second-round debate, each group presented a clear, reasonable, and creative compromise regulation. Several included provisions we hadn’t even considered and which were nowhere to be found in their victory objectives. When I asked their teacher how the negotiation process worked, he told me the students barely used their victory objectives. They focused more on creating regulations that were realistic and reasonable. I admit I was surprised.
At their community event last week, the Palisades students explained how their perspectives about plastics changed throughout the project. They emphasized the importance of compromise and the ability to recognize value in all perspectives. After the event, attendees expressed admiration for the students and their nuanced understanding of the issues. The students clearly learned a lot from plastics experts and stakeholders to prepare for this debate, but they might also have something to teach about the importance of compromise and understanding.