The Challenge of Industry

An SLA student makes her point during a first-round debate.

Photograph by Conrad Erb.

A major benefit of running a pilot is that it allows you to see where a program needs improvement. The debates at the Science Leadership Academy High School (SLA) revealed one area where The Case of Plastics needed improvement: the Industry group needs more support to make its case.

The students role-playing representatives of the plastics manufacturing industry received a disproportionate share of challenges from the other students. Rather than finding common ground with other groups, the Industry group felt hard-pressed, isolated, and unsure how to argue their case.

One problem was that students in the Industry group misunderstood important points of their position. In one class, when asked how industry works to mitigate the problem of plastic waste, the group failed to emphasize the plastic industry’s vigorous support for recycling as the solution to the problem of waste. 

Another problem for the industry was a tendency of the whole class to see them as “evil” and regard them as antagonists. Even groups with shared alignments and natural affinities like Invention and Sustainability avoided collaboration with Industry. As a result, the Industry group may have felt they had been cast as the Case of Plastics villains. This was far from our intention.

A regulator questions students about their positions during the first debate at the Science Leadership Academy.

Photograph by Conrad Erb.

Some of the problems faced by SLA’s Industry group reflected issues outside our control, like classroom dynamics and level of student preparation. However, we do have control over the materials presented to students, and as we revise them, we will focus on providing the Industry group with the necessary tools to promote the benefits of plastics in conjunction with other groups with shared interests.

Posted In: Project Development

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