By Beth Steklac, Littleton MYP Teacher and Curriculum Coordinator
Myth #2: Middle school students are argumentative.
True, but for a good reason. “The MYP (Middle Years Program) is designed to provide students with opportunities that will enable them to develop and challenge their own personal values; this is seen as a critical step in the lives of adolescents, which can help them acquire sound judgment.” In order to develop and challenge their own personal values, they must question, reflect and question again. As internationally minded students, they must be exposed to a wide range of beliefs and values and be open-minded to the idea that “others with their differences may also be right”. This does not mean that we set them loose, rather that we guide them to ask hard questions and examine things from a variety of perspectives.
While being argumentative is a positive sign of development, we want to help students argue respectfully and effectively. With gentle modeling of appropriate language and daily emphasis on listening skills, students learn how to treat each other with respect while expressing their own individual opinions. They also learn to argue effectively. From developing mathematical proofs to conducting scientific investigations to completing an extended essay, students learn that the best arguments are supported with evidence. Over time students learn that they are welcome to bring a new perspective and/or challenge an existing ideal if they bring appropriate backing and sound reasoning to the subject at hand.
With the ability to argue respectfully and effectively, students can begin to engage in invigorating debates that will aid in the development of their own personal beliefs and values. The Mackintosh Middle Years program allows students to explore many tough and controversial topics, such as genetic engineering, athletic use of performance-enhancing substances, the responsibilities of friendship, and the relationship between religion and culture. In our small environment, students feel safe to express their opinions and respectfully challenge the ideas of others. Through discussions and debates they begin to discover that we do not live in a world that is black and white.
Yes, middle school students are argumentative; they need to be. Learning to express themselves and support their ideas while listening to the opinions of others, is an important first step towards a confident adulthood. Understanding that there may be many perspectives is a first and critical step in creating a better and more peaceful world.
 MYP: From Principles into Practice, International Baccalaureate Organization 2008