Is it me or are we impolite, unpleasant, and unwilling to debate intelligently? On Saturday, The New Times ran an opinion, ‘Why I hate Miss Rwanda’ , which I ran on this blog the previous day, that caused plenty of public consternation, which of course, is what a good piece of writing is supposed to do. When we write, we aim to start a conversation and when this doesn’t happen, we’ve failed in our duty. However, I’ve noticed that the standards of discourse, when this conversation commences, is extremely rudimentary.
Often, what one notices is a deluge of personal attacks on the author and nary a word actually challenging the points raised by the author in the text. Instead of revealing the inconsistencies of the author’s argument, the young writer was instead called “ugly”, told to get off her “high horse” and it was insinuated that she was unpatriotic.
You know what they call people who do that intentionally? Trolls. Defined as ‘someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community’, their primary intent is to provoke readers into an emotional response and disrupt normal on-topic discussions. While I might begrudgingly admire some people’s mischievousness, I actually believe that the vast majority of the name-calling, mudslinging and inability to debate and reason logically are a direct result of the weakness of our educational system.
Think it’s just an issue that writers face? Let’s take a look back just a few years ago during the last presidential campaign. In 2010, FDU-Inkingi head honcho, Victoire Ingabire, flew into the country to campaign and instead of actually attempting to give people a political alternative, she flew off the handle. She acted recklessly, went about name calling and got herself in trouble. But of course, that was how she thought ‘playing politics’ was all about. To her school of thought, politics is more about bombastic rhetoric and riling people up, and less with giving them a ‘viable’ alternative.
Officials from the Rwanda Education Board are travelling to Washington DC on Friday to attend a literacy conference. While they might share certain best practices with other attending delegations, I think that they should also study certain best practices from other nations. When I was in elementary school in Uganda, we had a weekly debate in class. While the topics were rather rudimentary (for example ‘why salt was better than sugar’), these weekly sessions helped us learn how to formulate an argument reasonably and how to put our points across in a sober manner. These lessons have proved invaluable as I’ve gotten older. It’s my humble belief that if some of the debating skills I learnt in elementary school were compulsory parts of the Rwandan educational experience, we’d produce more sober-minded citizens, able to distinguish nuggets of truth from the inevitable rhetorical flotsam.