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July 23, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Value of High School and College Debate

The Value of Debate: Justification for Debate in the Academy

1) The Urban Debate League has a fantastic one pager on the value of debate.

2) Very extensive Debate Justification prepared for Georgetown University by Jeff Parcher.

3) The Value of Forensics by Professor Minh Luong of Yale University

4) Value of debate for USA Today by Del Jones, which argues debate is critical for leadership.

5) Value of debate article by Phil Kerpen in the Washington Post.

6) The National Forensic League has twelve documents on the justification for forensics and debate. The first three articles speak to the pedagogical value of debate from a research and analytic point of view. The article by former NFL participant Jonathon Carr “A Better Investment Not Found on Wall Street” provides a personal narrative about the value of debate from a current graduate of the London School of Economics.

7) The Value of Forensics video from the National Forensics League on the justification for speech and debate. The video is a bit hazy, but includes Oprah Winfrey, Jane Pauley, Brian Lamb of CSPAN, Senator Richard Lugar, and Ted Turner of CNN.

8] A Research Based Justification for Debate Across the Curriculum
(word doc download)

9) Many Sides: Debate Across the Curriculum, by Alfred Snider

10) The University of Vermont has several videos which speak to the value of debate for students. Specifically the “Why Debate?” video speaks to this issue (although it seems unavailable currently).

11) Value of debate bibliography by Linda Treadway.

12) Quotes from former famous debaters. (TBA)

Thanks to College Prep for many of the above suggestions.

If I have left a useful value of debate resource out, feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

I wrote this essay about 8 to 10 months ago….which is helpful for thinking about the skills that debate, and specifically policy debate, provides to students.

From Starbucks to McKinsey to Google, ideas, particularly in a our creative-knowledge economy are the engines of revolution and disruptive innovation. Ideas, combined with agile problem solving, research, and a passionate ability to execute decisively, are the fertile grounds for competitive industry advantage whether in technology, manufacturing, or professional services. In short in the 21st century, ideas are the lifeblood of our government, our culture, our economy, and our very future. Even, as manufacturing still lingers as an important part of the industrial puzzle, strategic ideas hold the promise of better processes, better products, as well as inspired employees and brand advocates.

Here are the core skills I’ve acquired and seen developed in others across my nearly two decade long experience in the activity:

Speedy expertise development via knowledge acquisition and research. This is critical for developing and refining best practices and dealing with the constant ups and downs of change in a globalized economy. Further, its critical to new product development and navigating ever-changing marketplace dynamics.

Persuasion in the Line of Fire. Debate acts as a trial by fire which cultivates communities of passionate and informed citizen student who are incredibly skilled at information processing, expert research, Sun Tzu-like strategy and hyper-fast real-time thinking which is so valuable for problem solving and navigating complexity. Debaters hone the strategic use of persuasive framing, key distinctions and nuances, contrast, along with vivid examples and metaphors which help solidify complex theories in minimal time.

Prediction and Future-casting Skills. In order to do policy analysis, debaters have to think about research in historical, economic, cultural, and political context. This helps hone predictive powers for marketplace behavior as well as identifying and capitalizing on big trends. In a world of innovation, this skill along with research and a passion for learning about customers is a massive asset. For instance, its common to have to deal with these core questions on a regular basis in the context of both government and economics:

* What is the strength of this choice?
* What is the weakness of this choice?
* Who are the experts in this field?
* What is the context is which these decisions are made?
* If we do X, what will actor Y do?
* What is their core motivation?
* How can we best frame this decision?

Inventive thinking. How to challenge the status quo in both influential thought circles and organizations. Evaluate multiple proposals using SWOT-like techniques. In fact, students are re-warded for finding the most credible, yet unconventional to test ideas and policies from multiple perspectives.

Leverage. Debaters are forced to recognize their strengths early on and hone strategies which optimize those strengths and minimize. This process of alignment (or hedgehogging) is key for the knowledge workers who want maximum productivity and impact.

Systems thinking. Debaters learn to look at crisis and conflicts through a more holistic, integrated, and contextual lense by applying multiple lenses to a problem including public policy, anthropology, ethics, and economics. Debaters are forced to think on micro- and macro- levels, identify inter-activities, and demonstrate the connections and compare the relative significance at each level. The ability to see the world in context, helps ensure a more integrated and contextual view as opposed to an atomized one which is limited. Systems thinking is critical for process mapping and refinement for eliminating killer choke points as strategy development for winning in the marketplace. Ultimately, system thinking helps individuals and organizations view decisions and the world in context as opposed to an atomized one which is blinded or limited.

Collaborative work. Both in weekly team sessions in brainstorming, strategizing, and responsibiliites are divided. Teams must find their partners strengths and work in sync with their to optimize their chances for success. So, much like world class-Olympic ice skating pairs, teams are mentally bonded in a common effort to win and achieve excellence.

Experiential & Scenarios Based Learning. Oddly, even in 2011, university classroom lectures don’t always lend themselves to advanced learning beyond the knowledge base of the textbook or professor. Each debate is an exercise in scenario based learning, in which ideas and strategies are refined experientially (much like prototypes are tested or ideas are refined in the boardroom).

High Quality Research. During the heat of the debate season, its standard practice for top debaters to research and write the equivalent of a 15 to 25 page white paper weekly on a complex policy, ethics, or economics issue, in addition to demanding academic schedules. Its not surprising then that an education in policy debate is one of the best preparations for advanced degrees like law, public policy, and communication.

So debate imparts the critical skills for individual, organizational, and corporate competitive advantage in the 21st century. Researching solutions, comparing decisions, and communicating effectively are indeed critical to our economic and civic future. President John F. Kennedy correctly emphasized: “I think debating in high school and college is most valuable training, whether for politics, the law, business, or for service on community committees such as the PTA and the League of Women Voters. . . . The give and take of debating, the testing of ideas, is essential to democracy. I wish we had a good deal more debating in our institutions than we do now.”

I hope this gets the conversation started. I look forward to your contributions. If you have suggestions…feel free to backchannel me or leave a comment. Cheers!

Resources on the Value of Debate:

* Value of Debate by Jeff Parcher at Georgetown
* Value of Debate and Forensics by Mihn Loung of Yale University

* I borrowed the last quote from an article by Phil Kerpen in the Washington Post (Sunday, June 24, 2007).


Here’s another quote for good measure: Northwestern professor of communication Dr. David Zarefsky:

“My most valuable experience was participating in debate. That’s where I learned most of what I know about research, analysis of an issue, evaluating evidence, building a case, and thinking strategically – to say nothing of such invaluable life skills as time management, working closely with colleagues, respecting others’ points of view, and recognizing that everyone encounters both wins and losses and learning how to deal with both. Frankly, there is no educational experience that has had such an imprint on my adult life as participating in debate.”


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