Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Forget Computer Science, Mr President. Every Kid Needs Debate

I recently challenged President Obama's misguided emphasis on computer science - simply put, not every kid needs CS. It's a very narrow curriculum and skill which is not applicable, or even relevant or interesting, to most kids and in most careers. And, I feel that way about much of the canon when it comes to public education. Not every kid needs algebra. Not every kid needs to study a foreign language. Not every kid needs to read The Great Gatsby or write a sonnet - or even read a sonnet.

But I might argue that every kid needs Debate class.

I've written before about the value of debate when I reported on the state Speech & Debate Tournament in Colorado. There are few students who impress me more with their knowledge, insight, confidence, diligence, and speaking skills than debate kids. Granted, DECA and FCCLA kids are also mighty impressive. But debate kids cultivate skills of emotional intelligence that will serve them well in any career from computer science to non-profit fundraising. Debate cultivates people skills, and our students need those more than ever. And, in a great piece for Bustle.com, Dasha Fayvinova offers great commentary on "20 Reasons Why Debate Kids are Better Prepared for Adulthood." Among them:

Debaters Know How To Advocate For Themselves

This one is obvious. Being a debater, meant never letting anyone get the upper hand in an argument. Parents would crack jokes about us being able to convince them of anything we set our minds to, and teachers would wave us off saying “You’re on the debate team, right?”. As adults we never struggle to clearly and concisely explain our opinions in a straightforward manner.

Debaters Can Persuade Like No Other

No wonder most debaters go on to have law degrees and political careers. We are masters of persuasion. Arguing is a natural skill, but persuasion can be learned. Knowing that "one third" sounds better than "33 percent" is a gift given to me by my coach. Certain phrases are overused and should be avoided. Eye contact. Next time your friend convinces you of something, ask if they ever did debate in high school. The persuasion possibilities are endless in adulthood, when you face very important challenges like negotiating your rent or vying for the last slice of pizza every day.

Debaters Can See Both Sides

Because the topic you debate has both a pro and a con, and only a flip of a coin decides which side you represent, as a debater you needed to see both sides to every argument. The best debaters predict arguments against their own side. This is what makes debaters the best adults. We can see an issue from both sides.

Debaters Can Smell BS A Mile Away

As John Stewart said in the final moments of his run on The Daily Show — “bullsh*t is everywhere”. Because as debaters, we manipulated so much evidence to help us win argument and spin it a certain way, debaters are really good at spotting when other people are doing it to them. (Take that, Craigslist scammers!)

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