Students in Mark Clizbe’s Dissent class, a VIth form history elective, don’t just agree to disagree. Rather, they debate, but as they do, they must adhere to parliamentary procedure. The parliamentary debate format, based in this case on the procedures of the Model UN, provides a method of inquiry that governs interactions between Dissent classmates as they work through complex historical and current issues.
A recent class addressed the question: “How should we remember September 11?” In the classroom parliament chaired by Clizbe (wielding a gavel in the parliamentary tradition), students were assigned the identities of well-known figures with connections to the events of September 11. Assuming these identities through research, students argued and advocated from their assigned points of view. Students debated as President George W. Bush, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, ACLU president Nadine Strossen, and others. The cast of characters was selected by Clizbe because of their proximity to events and for the abundance of information about their roles and views at the time. Employing this technique within the confines of parliamentary procedure ensured that a wide range of dissenting views would be represented and that all parties would learn from each other.
Students worked in groups to generate working papers to be presented to the class as a whole. Other students were then allowed to ask questions of the presenters, which could then lead to revisions and compromises. Thus ensued a civil and structured debate that never devolved into the kind of chaos that can arise when contentious and emotional issues are under consideration. In their respective roles, all students must engage in the debate to show a thorough analysis.
Clizbe has embraced parliamentary procedure to demonstrate a way of learning history from different perspectives to engender informed and meaningful dissent. As students present various points of view and hear others from classmates, they then use the group discussion to formulate their own opinions.
After several sessions of timed presentations and debate moderated by Clizbe, students will resume their identities as Millbrook students and write an essay expressing their own conclusions about how to best remember September 11.
This elective, one of five senior electives in which students enroll as the culmination of their exploration of history at Millbrook, uses the idea of dissent to immerse students in history and to provide a framework for understanding past and current events. In Clizbe’s class, the concept of dissent becomes a lifelong way of processing information, assessing truth and formulating opinions.