Why debate?

*note: in a previous post, I discussed the benefits of Public Forum-- here, I'd like to address the benefits of debate more generally.


Why Debate?


There’s a school I teach at, in the mountains near Taipei, one of the really well-known and prestigious private schools in the city.

The school offers a bunch of clubs— the Lego Robots club. The Rockband club. They have clubs for yoga, Rubik’s Cube, and Magic. They even have a “healing doodle” club.

Then they have my club. Debate club. How can we compete?

In a nod to this competition, I literally write at the bottom my club description— “join us if basketball club is full”.

Yet the debate club regularly has some of the highest signups for any of these clubs. Perhaps it’s due to the activity's prestige and parental pressure. Maybe it’s because basketball club really is full. But I think it’s not quite that— I think the students recognize the value of the activity and, even in middle school, have a strong inclination work we do in club is really meaningful for their lives.


But ‘meaningful’ still doesn’t answer the question. The question is still here: why debate?


Now, I don’t necessarily agree with the most common answers.


A lot of debaters will say that debate is about the community, about the friends you meet, the confidence you develop, and about the fun times you have.


From my perspective, you can get more community in a church or sports team, meet more friends online or in the hallway, and have a lot more fun at parties or playing video games. They’re not wrong that you’ll get these things in debate, but it’s hardly the most important reason to participate.


The reason to do debate is because of the debate skill set: public speaking, research, writing and argumentation. These are skills that every person who’s not totally failing at school should work on perfecting. And as far as I know, debate is the only event that forces you against your limit on all of these skills.


If you’re going to university, these are exactly the set of skills you’ll need to succeed. In that way, debate emulates the independent study skills that higher-ed success requires.


If instead of university you plan on entering the workforce directly, learning a trade, starting a business or looking for buried pirate treasure, the case is even more pressing: participating in debate may be your only opportunity to perfect the research and communication skills that can inform the decisions you’ll have to make when you encounter problems for the rest of your life. By practicing debate, you can exit high school with the same crucial writing, reading, speaking and research skill-sets that most hope to learn at university.


I hope that everyone reading this learns at least one magic trick, and has the chance to play with Legos at least a few more times in their life. But I hope as well that, if choosing education means something to a student in your life, that you'll consider choosing debate.

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