When it comes to keeping kids active parents are usually on the hunt for student activities with benefits of almost a mythical nature. Cue the images of all super activities with seemingly extraterrestrial skill-building powers like teaching expert NASDAQ or Bitcoin skills in an hour, developing a phone that doesn’t need to be upgraded, or training cats to use the toilet. Show us where we can find an activity that helps teach reading comprehension, or to read Swahili, boost grades, offer yoga in Spanish, help with critical thinking, perfect street smarts, cooking and creating a budget for annual snack expenses all-in-one. Where does a program like this exist? Asgard? Wakanda? Pleasantville? The Matrix? It has to be out there. We may have found a program that comes close in speech and debate.
With speech and debate, there are a myriad of benefits including competition, team building, academic progress, critical thinking, college readiness, socialization, life skills, social emotional intelligence, and confidence-building. All of these benefits have been proven to be positively impacted when elementary to college level students engage in competitive speech and debate programs.
Typically at the top of the list of areas parents value most when it comes to benefits of speech and debate include critical thinking, academic progress and college readiness. Parents aren’t the only ones. Argumentation professors Douglas Ehninger and Wayne Brockriede recognize in their work, 1978, that it is imperative for society to develop leaders with strong critical-thinking skills: “in an age when a single bomb can wipe out a great city, critical thinking is not a luxury but a necessity”. However, the benefits of speech and debate extend far beyond critical thinking.
Speech and debate offers students opportunities to collaborate by exposing them to information centered around perspectives, topics and communities outside of their own. While weighing pros and cons, students gain access to information about communities outside of their familiarity. Also, engaging in speech and debate builds confidence by lessening fear so that students can self-advocate through life events, speak publicly and more easily process their ideas. In Survey Details How Speech and Debate Bolsters Student’s Confidence, Dr. J. Scott Baker provides excerpts from a 2015 national survey of speech debate coaches. The article reports on responses from coaches that describe their students as being able to carry themselves with confidence, having a willingness to try new things, and better prepare to operate in society. When fear is reduced, students are able to function and communicate at a higher level. With speech and debate, activities involving ideation, leadership and strategy are more accessible because their confidence is boosted and fear is less of a focus.
Other benefits include exposure to difficult topics that sit outside-of-the-box. These benefits help build social emotional intelligence because they invoke empathy and compassion for others' experiences. Exposure to stories, issues and information outside of one's own bubble helps to remove what Prominent University of Vermont Professor Alfred C. Snider considered the “darkness”. Professor Snider dedicated his life to teaching debate, stating that debate calls to task simplistic public dialogue and foments a kind of global critical thinking. In 2004 with the Burlington publication, Seven Days, he stated, “my agenda is to fight back the darkness by trying to bring the light of human reason. I want to replace the weapons with words. I want every citizen to be a debater.” With the threat of political issues and cultural experiences creating divisions in our community, critical conversations become imperative. A background in speech and debate is necessary when navigating through it all.
To be involved in speech and debate presents opportunities that help develop skills applicable throughout life. The benefits not only improve academic to career readiness and critical thinking skills, they also help guide students into becoming better observers, researchers, and advocates for communities. Students have a greater chance at engaging their curiosity so that they become lifelong learners. What’s gained has been considered by many as a life changing and rewarding experience.
Baker, J. S. Confidently Speaking (Survey Details How Speech and Debate Bolsters Students’ Confidence). UIL Leaguer. September 2016.
Ehninger, D., and W. Brockriede. 1978. Decision by Debate. 2d ed. New York: Harper and Row. Fink, L. Dee. 1999. “Active Learning.”
Snider, Alfred C. and Lawrence, Edwin W. DEBATE: Important for Everyone World Debate Institute. University of Vermont January. 201.
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