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A Meeting of the Minds
Jessica Fiddes

Each year, John Thompson's  AP Modern World History classes conduct several debates to fulfill a HIstory Department goal of improving upon each student's public speaking skills. The debates including Socratic Seminars, Paideia Discussions, Formal Debates, Fish Bowl Debates, and a Trial. Annually at Delbarton, Louis XVI is guillotined or not depending on the strength of his defense team. 

On February 20, we visited Thompson's class to observe and photograph a debate known as The Meeting of the Minds Seminar.  Prior to the exercise, each student selected a historical figure to portray during the roundtable seminar. 

Students researched their historical figures and were provided with questions to prepare for.   Students were also ready for a Q&A period at the end of the seminar, an open forum where, for example,  Mary Wollstonecraft could ask Peter the Great why created a Russian navy, or Niccolo Machiavelli could ask Sojourner Truth how she rose from ex-slave to fiery abolutionist.  Did an apple actually fall on Isaac Newton's head? No, but an apple falling from a tree did inspire his law of universal gravitation. "Thank you, Isaac. I've always wondered about that," said Thompson after hearing Newton's reply. 

The characters included Klemens von Metternich, Confucius, Martin LutherT'oussaint L'Oveture, Napoleon Bonapart, Isaac Newton, Emeline Pankhurst, Sojourner Truth, Aurangzeb, Mary Wollstonecraft, Voltaire, Charles Darwin, Simon Bolivar, Niccolo Machiavelli, Genghis Khan and Peter the Great.   Thompson, who took copious notes during the Seminar, reports that students were assessed on their research and speaking skills, and their ability to think on their feet during the discussion.

As their teacher peppered them with interesting questions,  each student was pushed to think fast, provide succint and informed answers and then, moments later, quickly pivot to an entirely different topic relating to their historical persona. In addition to providing quick snapshots into the motivations and strategies of sixteen fascinating and influential men and women, the exercise was intellectually stimulating and highly entertaining. In fact, our young men seemed to enjoy this seminar as much as their teacher did. 

Thompson says, "This year's AP Modern World History classes did an outstanding job during our Seminars held last week and today." We concur!