I assigned my freshman Humanities class a debate about the relative merits of capitalism. They had an opportunity to line up along a continuum based on how they felt about capitalism after viewing a couple of short videos – one that extolled the virtues of free market systems and one that pointed out that free market capitalism often exploits people, sometimes to the point of effective slavery – and, based on where the kids put themselves, I broke them into two groups and gave them the premise that “the American form of free market capitalism is an ethical and sustainable economic system.”
We spent the better part of a week preparing for the debate. I gave them handouts, directed them to sources that would be helpful to them in supporting their positions, and encouraged them to meet periodically to clarify who would be doing which job in the team. I showed them a video of a sample debate and mapped out the way their debate would be run, making clear that every role in the list had to be filled by different people; every member of the team had to participate in some meaningful way.
The debate was today, and one side essentially walked all over the other. The differences in the groups’ performance was so great as to be…. well… Let’s just say this; when it was all over, I asked the class to debrief their groups’ work and to reflect on what they might do differently next time (because there WILL be a next time; they really didn’t meet any of the benchmarks for the assignment). This, unedited, is one of the responses I got:
My team fucking sucked. Four out of seven people didn’t do any work. One of these four didn’t even know what the hell we were doing. A monkey could have done better than half this team. Next time, I want a new team. I don’t want to be stuck with people who don’t do shit. It was embarrassing to be with this team due to the fact that they never work or pay attention. Overall, I hate most of my team. I would have preferred monkeys.