As Jacksonville residents grapple with whether to remove the city’s Confederate monuments a group of area high school students are offering a more conciliatory alternative to the normally fractious debate among adults.
Wednesday evening at Stanton College Preparatory School on Jacksonville’s Northside, students from seven different city schools, including Stanton, piled into an auditorium.
They were split up into nine groups, given pads and pens and were asked not to sit with people they know. Some kids were from debate clubs, others are in student government.
One of the main organizers of this interschool Socratic Seminar is Stanton teacher Steve Ingram. The kids tried to come to a consensus on what to do with the city’s Confederate monuments.
“This is collaboration. This is not a confrontation or a debate per se. We are gathered here to parallel the discussions that have been occurring within the last six weeks at the city council, in the city newspapers and among individuals,” he said introducing the discussion.
Ingram and his co-organizers conduct these Socratic Seminars — named for the discussion style popularized by classical Greek philosopher Socrates — a few times a year.
Each teacher takes a turn asking an open-ended question and each student group must find consensus then relay that consensus to the rest of the auditorium. The goal is that by the end of the seminar, all seven groups can reach some level of understanding.
Sophomore Dewayne Wakefield is a student at Ed White Military Academy. He’s against keeping confederate monuments in public places, but said the format helps him build empathy for those with the opposing view.
“He was talking about wanting to keep them up. I sort of understood where he was coming from because, again, it is a part of history. You can't just keep taking away from history. History is there so you don't repeat it,” he said.
Not all the students in the auditorium during the seminar actually participated in the discussion. Some were chosen by Ingram to be facilitators.
Junior Aastha Singha, leader of Stanton’s debate club, said she’s learned a lot simply by listening more intently to her fellow students.
“I was like proud, I guess, of the way people were able to come together. As I was walking around, even if they disagreed, nobody was cutting each other off, nobody was being rude or anything. The exchange of ideas is what I wanted to happen here and I’m really happy that it did,” she said.
Although the students didn’t exactly agree on everything, Ingram believes there’s a lot their parents can learn from them.
“Once you emphasize at the beginning that we seek their knowledge, their imagination, but most importantly civility and collaboration, then you establish the rules of engagement by which they will interact with each other,” he said. “Once you lay that groundwork, it has been my experience, students respond more readily and more adeptly than adults many times.”
Ingram said somewhere along the way adults became less interested in discussion and more interested in being right. He credits the younger generation with using the internet as a tool to connect to diverse people, while their parents have used it to build walls.