Monday, January 6, 2020

Can Debate class & school newspapers save "Civics"?

Kids these days.

Like we have for generations, Americans have a pretty dim view of young people and their knowledge of civics and the lack of civic engagement. I don't share the pessimism, though I too can be shocked by how little some kids and teens seem to know or care about government and their community and the issues that should unite and define us.

Being a bit more optimistic, at least in regards to my school and the kids I know, I have occasionally wondered whether classes in speech & debate can save the republic, or at least lessen the caustic divisiveness. I've even considered proposing an article or column about that after I became involved in debate tournaments at my school and was truly stunned by how knowledgeable and insightful some kids could be on national and international issues .... not not mention how fluent and articulate. Now, Natalie Wexler, an education writer and advocate known for her book The Knowledge Gap, has posed that very idea, and I am intrigued by her thoughts.

Certainly, the standard semester of civics or government can generally be seen as inadequate in creating and preparing the "educated electorate," which was envisioned and expected by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. So, in a interesting piece for, Wexler presented some thoughtful analysis on "civics education," and also posed the idea that perhaps we could meet the challenge of fading print journalism by encouraging high school student publications to pick up the slack by covering local news, specifically around civic issues. She also mentions the role of debate class, which obviously cultivates strong skills in reading, writing, research, speaking, and critical thinking.

I love this idea!

Not sure how it might happen or who can lead the way. But I'm intrigued by the practical application.

1 comment:

Lori Ambrose said...

I love those ideas! My son was a debater at Creek, and I’m still so impressed by the many ways he benefited from it. Beyond the obvious public speaking experience, there’s research and knowledge of current and longstanding issues, determining the key points of each side of an issue and being able to argue both sides, debating without anger, persuasive argument structure, teamwork, leadership, mentoring. Not to mention being part of a brilliant group of ambitious, hardworking teens. Debate was by far the best activity he was involved in, and I feel it gave him more practical skills and knowledge than all the other classes combined. I’m seeing current complaints from boomers on Facebook about how they think this new generation of voters is uninformed. Ha – they have more up-to-date knowledge than my peers, are actually still using their brains in the pursuit of knowledge, and are not set in their ways from a lifetime of voting for one party.