The concept of debate is a very abstract idea to most people. Perhaps it brings to mind the image of politicians squabbling on a primetime stage. For others, it references heated arguments among friends. However, for the former and current debate nerds of the world, it means a structured, educated forum of argumentative exchange.
There are a wide variety of competitive debate events, ranging from philosophical to political, from conversational to break-neck speeds. While members of the debate community could go on for hours about why particular formats of debate are better than others, all debate formats provide unique benefits to participants in their activities.
Research Skill Development
Debate teaches people how to effectively research in a couple of ways. Initially, it teaches students where to look for information. While some high schools and colleges have research tutorials for their students, debate provides a condensed crash course on the various sources one can use to support their arguments. This involves advanced search engine techniques, the utilization of credentialed databases, and effective library skills.
Debate also teaches participants how to differentiate between quality and unreliable sources. It establishes a hierarchy among sources, with peer-reviewed academic findings receiving high praise, while blogs and user-generated content are treated with skepticism, helping to develop responsible students and consumers of information.
Debate is a great tool for helping participants develop sharp critical thinking skills in two respects. At the outset, debate teaches students to critically analyze arguments and the way they interact with one another as they develop cases and pre-constructed arguments. This aids in preparation of real-life arguments.
Moreover, students learn to quickly analyze, understand and compare arguments in actual debate rounds. They have to be able to determine the scope and magnitude of various impacts, identify weaknesses and establish a hierarchy of the warrants presented in round, all within a matter of minutes. This helps them to better engage in constructive discussions in both their personal and professional lives later.
Participants in debate quickly learn to manage their time more effectively. In round, speakers are limited by pre-established time constraints, and must make their case in a limited amount of time. This teaches students to increase their word economy and to develop concise arguments. In addition, participants must balance their obligations to school, friends, family, work and debate, teaching them responsibility and good scheduling habits.
In the world of debate, not every judge is created equal. Some are very adept at handling speed. Others are talented in evaluating critical, philosophical arguments. Still others prefer a realistic analysis of an issue and a conversational tone. These differences require students to be able to adapt their argumentative approach to fit the needs and abilities of the judge evaluating them. The skill of adaptation is an important component of professional and personal success, too. Debate also teaches students to read the nonverbal signals of a judge, which is critical in personal conversation as well.
In an era of declining newspaper patronage and apathy toward world events, debate is an excellent way to shape world conscious citizens. Because debate requires in depth research and analysis of various political, economic and social controversies, participants become well versed in some of the most important issues facing society today. Not only are students engaged in exploration of important topics during their tenure as competitors, but they often become more informed consumers and democratic participants long after their debate eligibility has run out.
Public Speaking Skills
Though some criticize debate for taking communication to a level that is unrecognizable to the average communicator, debate creates better public speakers in the long run. First, because students have learned how to construct effective arguments, their speeches are usually very well written, supported and incredibly persuasive. Second, the confidence that debate instills in them regarding their ability to make an argument makes them a more comfortable public speaker. Some criticize the rate of speed used in various debate realms, but even the fastest debaters can adapt their argumentative prowess to a public address worthy of praise.
In a world of increasing budget cuts for educational institutions, debate is frequently put on the chopping block. However, a close look at the benefits this activity provides for its participants shows just how valuable an investment it is for tomorrow's society.