As of the May 9 Moundridge U.S.D. 423 Board of Education meeting, I am a debate and forensics coach.
I will begin my duties at Moundridge High School in August when the 2022-23 school year begins.
Though I have experience with forensics, coaching debate presents a new venture. I will have to educate myself about how to do so effectively.
Granted, I already have plenty on my plate, but I want to ensure the local students continue to have the opportunity to learn debate.
This is because I see immense value in debate.
Debate classes and programs support student learning by developing analytical and critical-thinking skills that allow students to see links between words and ideas that they might otherwise see as unrelated thanks to the necessary research they must do to craft their arguments. This positions debate programs to do more and better than typical classroom structures that rely on memorization.
As academic researcher Joe Bellon argued in 2000, memorization “has been found to be an inadequate method of inducing learning [. . .] because students learn by actively constructing new meaning based on prior knowledge and understanding [. . .] Cognitive research demonstrates that successful classrooms are interactive—that students learn less when urged into passive roles or practices.”
Hands-on, experiential learning is crucial, which is why I am so devoted to journalism education. Journalism provides this type of education in spades. This means debate and journalism aren’t as different as they might seem upon initial consideration. After all, they both exist within the realm of communication, making my foray into the debate world a smaller leap than it looks.
Besides, research shows that debate cultivates communication skills. Whether through journalism or other means, I firmly believe developing such abilities is important for our society.
As Bellon pointed out, debate provides support in “developing an educated and aware citizenry [. . .] Debate is so fundamentally connected to democratic practice that, for much of our civilization’s history, its benefits have been thought nearly self-evident” because “it teaches them how to evaluate the information they receive on a daily basis.”
Additionally, debate improves students’ social skills. Debaters report making friends more easily and having higher levels of self-confidence, even as participation takes up considerable amounts of time and can be stress-inducing.
Clearly, an internal tension exists within debaters. When preparing and competing, students are asked to act more mature than they might be. This is because debaters deal with heavy and important social issues thanks to the “assigned” subject during each debate season.
In doing so, debate students become more engaged in public life and more likely to speak out on matters of importance. This is vital for the continuation of the public sphere, which facilitates public debate and plays a key role in democracy.
Of course, from a purely academic standpoint, debate carries benefits for students such as learning to interact with peers, increased academic performance, and developing the aforementioned critical-thinking skills, but for those benefits to come to fruition, debate must be approached with intentionality in order to avoid oversimplification and forced confrontational friction.
When done well, debate provides interactive education that promotes cooperative learning and intellectual disagreement that, as Bellon highlighted, “teaches students to understand how others think—event those others with whom they strongly disagree.”
Such benefits are why Jim Hanson advocated for an increase in debate program access. When students have the opportunity to participate in debate, as well as forensics, they find them exposed to an activity focused on “finding agency and voice,” as Christina Ivey argued.
In rural communities such as Moundridge, debate programs don’t exist always. That was the case at Canton-Galva High School, the rural Kansas high school I attended. This makes Moundridge students lucky. This especially is true considering the history of the program, which includes more than 25 state championships and a former coach who is in the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame.
Those are big shoes to fill, and I hope I can come close to living up to the expectations.
No matter what, though, I will do whatever I can to continue to provide Moundridge students with the opportunity to participate in debate and forensics as long as I am the coach. I will have to learn with the students at first, but, hopefully, I can make a positive impact on them along the way.