Lesson 2: The TVA: A Constructive Controversy
The controversy surrounding the Tennessee Valley Authority was profound and complicated. It raised constitutional, economic, social, philosophical and ethical issues. Once students become familiar with the facts and the issues by reading and studying the material in the collection and other material you provide, they will be in an excellent position to debate these issues.
Many teachers have found that the process of preparing for a debate is the most constructive part of the debate process. The anticipation of competition in the classroom, an experience wherein there is a high degree of student participation, encourages students to master material, to study it harder than they would without this culminating activity as a goal. Indeed, it would be a reasonable motivational strategy to suggest to students that the reason they are learning this material is because at the end of the unit there will be a class debate on it.
The format for the debate might be more or less traditional: Rounds wherein each side argues its position, then rebuts the other sides, then rejoins. Teams are scored for the number of valid arguments they make, for their use of evidence, and so on.
But we are living in a time when students who will be adults in the 21st century will have to learn, in addition to how to be good losers and winners, the skills of empathy and compromise, of crafting solutions that are most reasonable and that incorporate the best thinking of the people on all sides of an issue. Therefore, in place of debate format, we suggest the following one, called a constructive controversy.
The goals of this lesson are to:
Divide the class into seven groups and choose a recorder for each. Give one chart to each group.
Using the resources available in the TVA collection, direct students to find information that reinforces the point of view of the person they were assigned. Students should be made aware that they are looking for facts, including testimony (oral history), reasons, and explanations.
Note: All the points of view are represented except that of African-Americans, although we are told that black residents of the valley were summarily excluded from the opportunities provided by the TVA despite the fact that many poor white and black Americans had been working side by side for generations. The group that is assigned this point of view will have to make statements that would be plausible for African-Americans to have made. The evidence will consist principally of reasons and explanations, since so few facts are documented. They may use information that talks to other points of view as evidence for themselves--for example, "Despite the fact that the soil is poor, we have made our living on it for generations. We don't want a government handout, but we would like to buy new land and participate in the demonstration farm program."
Decide how and when the research should be conducted and how much time your class will need. Provide class time for group members to record their findings on the group chart.
In the first session of the constructive controversy, each group chooses a reader who will read the evidence they have compiled to the rest of the class. Each should have a concluding statement that expresses support for the TVA, or opposition to it, or a combination of support and opposition. Others in the class listen and then ask questions.
In the second session, the charts are rotated among the groups--so, for example, a group that had Roosevelt yesterday might have Faire today. Each group now takes the position of the person whose chart they are now holding. They add to the evidence the other group has compiled. At the end of an appropriate amount of time, the charts get rotated again. The process continues until all the groups have seen and have had the opportunity to amend all the charts. You might notice that as the process goes on, groups have less and less to add and you can allot less and less time before switching. Alternatively, all the charts might be posted and you might allow time for any student to come up and add evidence to any chart.
Once all the charts are complete, display them and allow time for the class to look at all of them together. Then ask and allow for discussion of some or all of these questions. Alternatively, some of these might be questions asked in a follow-up essay about the TVA. In that case, it would be helpful for each student to have access to the material on all the charts and to the material in the TVA section of the New Deal Network.