C&C Debate: A Program Teaching Vital Skills

After the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many student activists, including David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, immediately demanded that Florida legislators and the Federal government stop gun violence. They bravely challenged the NRA. According to a Miami Herald article published February 23rd, 2018 the reason that David and Emma, and many of their classmates, are so eloquent and are able to articulate their message to the media so well is that were taught formal debate skills at school. They were members of the debate team in a school with a very strong, funded program. This is an example of how debating can be applied to real life; it shows how students can use debate skills to express themselves, advocate for their position and really get their voices heard.

Skills developed in debate class also help students structure essays, organize their work and conduct research efficiently. Formally debating gives students the confidence to raise their hand in class and actively participate in discussions. Debate trains students to listen effectively and improves critical thinking skills. Debate also teaches kids rhetoric, the art of persuasive speaking, which is a crucial life skill, according to the University of Washington. Rhetoric helps people get what they want and solve problems. Math can be done with a calculator and foreign language translation can be done with a simple app, but there is no shortcut to rhetoric. The skill of rhetoric has to be practiced.

The English Speaking Union (ESU), a non-profit organization that runs two New York middle school debate leagues, claims that debate skills are vital skills for middle school students to learn. Throughout the three years of middle school, a child’s brain is developing and students are beginning to think differently, in more of an adult way. The ESU states that debate is a “critical skill” and that all kids should be taught it as it “improves organization, time management, and public speaking.”

This year C&Cs debate program has reached a new level of popularity. Due to high demand, an extra afternoon of debate class has been made available in the Add-Ins schedule to accommodate keen C&C students. Each of the three debate classes meets with our experienced debate coach, Sarah Whittier, once a week, for two hours. Sarah exclaimed that “debate enables students to become more mindful and aware of different positions of an argument.” During the class, students research a debate topic and then debate each other in teams. A September 2018 survey conducted of all C&C Upper School students shows that 92% of respondents agreed that debate is a useful skill for school and life.

C&C also belongs to a middle school debate league - the Big Apple League. Skilled C&C debaters can compete in teams against other schools during Saturday debating tournaments. These are scheduled a few times each semester. Debaters research and prepare their pros and cons arguments for four or five topics a few weeks before the tournaments. One C&C debater, Georgia Guariglia, exclaimed that “it is really fun to debate against other schools because you get to learn and debate at the same time!” Overall, the experience of competing in a debate tournament is enjoyable and exhilarating.

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