In a conversation pre-Morsi resignation/soft military coup, I mentioned my frustration with the perceived dichotomy of the situation – military takeover or Morsi’s continued abuse of powers as seen by many Egyptian citizens.
“It’s as if the world has forgotten to look for the third way,” I said, and it is a thought that has been hanging around my brain ever since.
It was augmented when a friend shared a link to this NYT story on Oregon’s agreement to pilot a new way of funding higher education. It is a third way.
When I suggest the third way, I don’t mean to limit things to three possibilities, but to work against the idea that, when two options have presented themselves, we stop looking for others.
It’s akin to the lessons I tried to help my eighth grade students learn when they were starting to write persuasive essays. After deciding to write in response to a given prompt, the students would talk out their thinking regarding their stances on the issue. “Well,” someone would say, “I think I’m for it,” while another student across the room would announce that she was against whatever topic was up for debate. Then, they decided they were ready to start their planning of their argument.
I stood back.
A few minutes passed.
“Mr. Chase,” said one voice or another, “I’m trying to plan my argument, and I keep coming up with reasons why this is a good idea, but I’m arguing that it’s not.” The student would look over to me chagrinned, sure that the only option would be to switch sides, since the evidence was mounting over there.
“What if you acknowledged that the idea isn’t all bad?” I’d ask, “And, make the argument that your side is the better of the two.”
Usually with some coaxing, the student would agree to attempt this line of reasoning.
The best moments, though, were the students who sat confounded for several minutes, notes scratched all over their papers. “I keep thinking about it,” they would say, “and I don’t think either of these sides is the right way to go.”
“Do you have a better idea,” I’d ask.
“I think so.”
“Then, write that.”
These are the students I wish we were looking to more as models of the debates we wage over the important issues of our time. They are the ones who give themselves the space to lean back in their chairs, consider the information in front of them and decide they’d like to try to find a path different than those laid out for them by others.
Robert Frost may have seen two roads diverging in the woods, and that’s largely the basis for much of our contemporary policy decisions. What’s necessary though, is re-writing Frost and choosing the road not yet seen.
That will make all the difference.