The importance of debate and public speaking for high school students cannot be underestimated. In our "Mission-Driven Education" curriculum, we provide the means for students to learn the skills and techniques needed to succeed in today's job market. Because we are always striving to make Learning for Success as comprehensive as possible, every week we've given great importance to developing student debate skills. However, as many schools are finding out these days, debate is a valuable tool for students to strengthen their critical thinking skills and develop critical thinking skills as adults.
Debating and public speaking are at the heart of what it means to be heard, respected, and understood. We are dedicated to continuing to work with fellow members of the student body to help create a more inclusive and diverse classroom and building a community in which respect and equality is a fundamental and shared value. We are committed to building a community that better reflects the diversity and communities of students and staff, and that allows all students to understand that all people are born with a full set of human rights.
The evidence of the importance of debate and public speaking is clear. Researchers have found that in subjects of all ages, particularly young adults, those who perform well in debate are happier, more positive in outlook, and better at handling conflict. Further, in the workplace, debate has the same power as leadership: people in debate and political leadership positions are more likely to get higher pay and promote themselves. And it is not just with government. Communication with young people remains a challenge in many workplaces: the majority of employees did not express an interest in public speaking or in learning these skills until they became much older.
While not the most persuasive writing in the world, this may surprise you: The above three paragraphs were written by AI. All I did was to write the three topic sentences. They’re underlined above. A computer, specifically Adam King’s Open AI GPT-2 language model, filled in the rest. You might be thinking at this point, “Okay, that’s a neat party trick.” It may be, but this is the point: soon we won’t be able to trust that anything we’re reading is actually written by the person ‘writing' it. Faking other people’s essays, submitting work on behalf of another person, or buying pre-written papers is not a new game for students. This has been around for a long time. More recently, the game has become taking standardized tests for other people. But submitting work for others (written by a human) has been around since we were able to write at all. What’s changing now is the role of computers in fomenting this academic or journalistic honesty crisis.
Imagine a university where professors cannot tell if the essays have been written by students or algorithms. Imagine an admissions process where personal narratives and personal statements are still read, but not valued because the veracity of the author is in question.
Our education systems are changing and have already changed from a system where memorization was paramount to one in which ‘finding the right information’ is more highly valued. For one, I can’t say that I necessarily disagree with this mentality. Having had to memorize names and dates of emperors of Rome and other random trivia like the state bird of Wisconsin and forgetting all of that today doesn’t sit well with me. But in an environment where ‘get the answer correct and use any tools you can to do it,’ persists, it is not unimaginable that academic dishonesty will increase.
Actually, it already has. The Russell Group (a collection of 24 institutions in the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge) reported that academic misconduct cases increased 40% between 2014-2015 and 2016-2017. A single data point does not a trend create, as we know. But still, 40% increase in such a short time speaks to something that’s going on here.
The Open AI GPT-2 model that I used above to ‘write’ the opening of this week’s memo was rated in one test as ‘credible’ by 72% of readers. The New York Times was given the same rating by 83% of readers(!). The NYTimes was rated 15% more credible than a computer. Considering that intuitively we feel most students aren’t capable of writing ’NYTimes Quality Journalism,’ it would appear pretty logical that students will be seeking out any tools available that can help them get anywhere close. Worse still, these AI engines will improve at a much faster rate than students can expect to improve themselves. Students are incentive-driven people. Saving time and energy to get the grades they want? It’s clear that in the Russell Group that’s already happening. Why not at a larger scale and technologically-enabled?
We are likely years away from AI writing really compelling research papers. But when I read the computer-generated responses above, I wonder, “When that change happens, ‘overnight,’ what skills will be the ones people flock to?"
The ground is shifting under our feet and into our hands. The most reliable way to evaluate someone for a school, a job, or another role is going to be through a combination of methods, but certainly with an interview or other live demonstration of their work and prowess in areas of claimed competence. This is the importance of ‘live.’ Yes, it can be practiced. Yes, it can be sharpened. But it is difficult to fake.
As for the skills people will value once AI engines are writing our papers for us?
I’d bet on face-to-face communication, listening, public speaking, debate, and leadership skills.