Friday, November 21, 2014

The Value of Debate

I am a competitive person, and a first-generation college student. I grew up in a small town in Texas where sports are all encompassing, and I was no exception to this trend. As a young person, I thought the only value in academics was what it could do for me: get me a good job, keep my parents and teachers happy, and so on.

For me, that only changed because of academic debate. I was initially drawn to academic debate because it spoke to my competitiveness. I liked winning debates as much as I liked winning athletic competitions. I enjoyed developing new argumentative strategies as much as liked successfully executing a trick play in football. I relished the thrill of the clever argument as much as hitting a 3-pointer.

In order to win arguments, I had to become a better critical thinker and researcher. I had to respond quickly, accurately, and efficiently to arguments. I had to do in-depth research on a topic to anticipate every possible objection so that I was ready to defend my view against those objections. Because I had to defend perspectives other than my own, I learned to see issues from multiple viewpoints. I became comfortable with people disagreeing strongly with my views and positions. I often had strongly held opinions that were fundamentally reoriented by the unforced force of the better argument. I learned how to debate about facts and figures, but also about differences in values and ethics.

As I repeatedly engaged in these processes in over 300 intercollegiate debate rounds and later coached my college team and a high school debate team, these academic features became second nature to me. They formed me and my approach to academics. Academics were no longer merely a means to a good job, a way to keep my teachers happy, or even for winning a debate. Rather, it was part of what it means to be a life-long learner and a citizen. That's why I think debate is perhaps one of the most valuable activities for people of all ages. Other practices can develop those traits, but debate is what did it for me.

No comments:

Post a Comment