Source: Connect with Kids
The Value of Debate
“It provides a way for students to learn outside of the traditional classroom. They have control over their learning, and that inspires students and motivates them.”
– Bill Newnam, debate coach
After declining in popularity, high school and college debate teams are now making a comeback. Today, there is a new pool of young students who are learning to battle against each other using words and their wits and gaining important life skills along the way.
On the court and on the field, kids love to compete. And now on the intellectual front, a familiar type of competition – a contest of reasoning and persuasion that some kids misunderstand – is gaining popularity again.
“Before I got into debate, I thought it was for geeks,” 15-year old Hannah says.
Willie, 14, echoes those sentiments. “I thought you had to be a nerd or you were geeky or you weren’t cool [to debate].”
As it turns out, many students say it is cool to match wits and win an argument against other students. And while these students are having fun, they are also learning.
“Debate teaches us three things that we can use in almost any field we go into,” says Bill Newnam, associate director of debate for Emory University. “It teaches us incredible critical thinking skills, very good research skills and strong organizational and presentational skills.”
In fact, some studies show that teenagers who participate in organized debate for at least one year are able to significantly improve their critical thinking skills. And kids say that debating is training for the mind.
“It’s helped with my school work and my articulation skills,” Willie says. “I speak out more. I comprehend better.”
“In class, I used to not talk. I used to sit back in the corner, but now it’s like I know what I’m talking about so I talk more,” Hannah says.
Participating on a debate team also helps boost kids’ confidence and teaches them how to use words and ideas to resolve a conflict.
“Words are strong enough themselves. So if you speak what you think is right, people will accept or reject it,” Willie says.
In the past, competitive debate was mostly associated with students who attended private schools and came from affluent backgrounds. But the argumentative practice is now gaining popularity with students all across the United States, even those who attend inner-city schools. In fact, the Urban Debate League (UDL) says approximately 3,000 students take part in its nationwide program.
So why are more students choosing to exercise their minds by joining high school debate teams? According to a study conducted by Gary Alan Fine, author of Gifted Tongues: High School Debate and Adolescent Culture, the reasons for teens’ involvement in debate fall into three categories:
Strategic Involvement – Many students associate debate with the worlds of politics and law, and some who desire to follow these career paths say joining a debate team is a “logical choice.” Others join in an attempt to “beef up” their transcripts before applying to college.
Fun Experience – The number of students who join because “I always liked to argue” is considerable. These students find competitive debate both challenging and conducive to camaraderie.
Network Recruitment – Many students join a debate team because their friends are members. Others say that their parents, siblings or teachers whom they admire often influence their decision to try competitive debating.
Tips for Parents
The UDL says that because students involved in debate regularly engage in writing, information analysis, and in-depth library and Internet research, they often receive higher grades than non-debaters in high school and are more likely to continue on to post-secondary education. A recent study published in the journal Communication Education lends further evidence to debate’s educational benefits. The study’s findings showed students who participated in organized debate for at least one year improved their critical thinking skills by 44 percent. If you want to encourage your teen to join a debate team, the Puget Sound Speech and Debate Association suggests informing him or her of these potential benefits of participation. Debating …
- Offers preparation for leadership.
- Provides for investigation and intensive analysis of significant contemporary problems.
- Develops proficiency in critical thinking.
- Emphasizes quality instruction.
- Encourages student scholarship.
- Develops the ability to make prompt, analytical responses.
- Develops critical listening skills.
- Develops proficiency in writing.
- Encourages mature judgment.
- Develops courage.
- Encourages effective speech composition and delivery.
- Develops social maturity.
- Develops multicultural sensitivities.
- Develops computer competencies.
Urban Debate League
Gifted Tongues: High School Debate and Adolescent Culture
Puget Sound Speech and Debate Association
National Forensic League