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The Great Balloon Debate: Influential Figures Aloft

The Great Balloon Debate: Influential Figures Aloft

Imagine a colorful hot air balloon soaring high above the landscape, its passengers a diverse mix of historical and contemporary icons. Among them are Todd Graves, the founder of Raising Cane’s; David Goggins, the ultra-endurance athlete; Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader; and Mike Mentzer, the revolutionary bodybuilder. As the balloon drifts through the sky, an unexpected malfunction occurs. Three of its riders must evacuate to keep it afloat. But who will stay aboard?

Researching Impactful Figures

In Christy Harper’s English language arts class at Lakota West Freshman School, students embarked on a persuasive-argument and public-speaking assignment. Their mission: research the lives and legacies of influential individuals whose contributions have shaped our world. For example:

  • Brook Casarcia chose Todd Graves, inspired by his resilience and work ethic. Graves, the man behind Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, faced countless rejections before turning his dream into a thriving reality. 
  • Indirdeep Mashal focused on David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL and ultramarathon runner. His story of overcoming obstacles captivated Mashal.
  • Will Miller explored the life of Mike Mentzer, a bodybuilder who transformed fitness philosophy. Mentzer’s high-intensity training methods challenged conventional norms and Miller admired his revolutionary approach.
  • Braylen McQueen researched the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. For McQueen, King’s fight for civil rights was inspiring.

“My hope is that by letting them pick (their person), they are more likely to (not only) do the work (but) enjoy it,” said Harper. “Typically their debates are a bit livelier when there’s some passion for their topic.” The passion students felt for their choices certainly came through.

The Great Balloon Debate

Harper came across this assignment when she was in college and has since tailored it for her own students. She’s also shared the project with her peers at the Freshman School who have introduced it to their classes as well.

With their research complete, the students found themselves in an influential showdown. Randomly divided into groups, they prepared to defend their chosen figures. But there was a twist: they also had to counter their opponents’ arguments. The stakes were high—their persuasive skills would determine who remained in the metaphorical balloon.

students sitting in desks listening and talking

The Four Rounds

  1. Introduction: Each student presented their person, making a compelling argument as to why they should remain in the balloon. 
  2.  Persuasive Claim: Armed with facts, students touted their figure’s impact, using supporting evidence to make the argument that they deserve a spot in the balloon. At the same time, they also scrutinized their opponents’ choices, arguing why they should leave.
  3. Counter Arguments: The students showed how well they researched their figures as they defended them against attacks made in the previous round.
  4. Conclusion: Students closed out the debate by blending their passion for their own person with evidence in order to persuade the student judges to let them remain in the balloon.

Miller, who admires Mentzer for developing the high intensity and low volume style of lifting weights, was excited about the assignment. “It’s a way to share my interests in front of a crowd - scary, but I really liked it,” he said.

McQueen agreed, having enjoyed sharing with the class about someone he admires and being able to learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. through the assignment, such as how much he was influenced by Gandhi.

And the Balloon Drifts On…

“I think the most challenging part (of the assignment) is the actual public speaking,” said Harper. “After all, it is the number one fear of Americans, according to a Washington Post poll.”

Arrun Debnath, who also chose Graves for his debate, said, “The hardest part was gathering the evidence.” As for whether or not he was nervous to debate his classmates? “You just have to get over the nerves about public speaking.” That he did, in order to defend what he considers to be Graves’s most important contribution to society: the Raising Cane’s sauce.

The students walked away from the great debate with experience not just in public speaking, but making and defending a persuasive argument. For McQueen, he walked away with a little bit more. His presentation about Martin Luther King, Jr. earned him the top spot among Harper’s classes, extra credit points and the grand prize in the bonus debate of champions.