Susan Herbst, chief academic officer for the University System of Georgia, recently wrote an Inside Higher Ed piece and made a strong argument for incorporating the principles of policy debate into a curriculum dedicated to improving the critical thinking skills of students.
While there are other approaches that have incorporated argumentation into the curriculum, those efforts can be further improved by teaching the principles of debate to students. Students who are exposed to debate, learn to identify components of a rational argument, methods of assessing evidence credibility, the importance of identifying both sides of a contested issue, and the capacity to listen critically to claims made on both sides of an issue. These principles should be enacted in both classroom and public debates held on campus. For people interested in bring debate into the classroom I recommend the January 2000 issue of Argumentation and Advocacy.
The article written by Dr. Joe Bellon is a thoughtful defense of a research-based debate across the curriculum program. We should be encouraging people to debate and not simply learn about the value of argumentation. In a world with 60-90 second speeches in presidential debates, impassioned speeches delivered by members of Congress in an often empty House well, and elected officials using incendiary language to spark a dispute, there is a need to share the principles of policy debate to empower our students to participate in public controversies in their lives.
Beyond providing this traditional defense of debate training to empower the next generation of citizens, the new economy places a premium on the skills that debate teaches its students. The ability to be adaptable and innovative is currently at a premium. My friend, Brent Culpepper, recently sent a Tom Friedman op-ed piece that points to the skills that our workers need and debate has provided to students for centuries. And, Friedman calls for a reform of the educational system to spark our lagging economy.
We should adopt the techniques of policy debate in classrooms to both enrich civic discourse and jumpstart the transition to the new economy.
If you took a peek at this post for a defense of the current practice of intercollegiate or interscholastic debate, I’ll take on that task in a later post.