I could give you a lot of reasons for why your school should have debate as a centerpiece for it's advanced language arts or English program, but the article below from The Wilmington Star News is probably the best case for it. If that doesn't sell you, I only ask that you take a moment out and read what I wrote for the TPT page Preview. I PROMISE you, I will be there for you in every way imaginable if you take this on (... short of coming to your school. I'm a North Carolina teacher and funding is not a part of the educational equation.).
In Our Schools
Trask Middle School debate: From the judges’ perspective
Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 4:49 by Jason Gonzales, Wilmington Star News
StarNews Education reporters Pressley Baird and Jason Gonzales (along with a few other colleagues) spent a few hours Thursday judging a debate put on by Trask Middle School students.
The results? The judges had more nerves than the participants, and a group of reporters left impressed by the capabilities of the kids. The format split the kids into groups of two, arguing for and against a subject. The kids had two rounds to introduce and take a stance on the subject, a cross-examination period and then a round to close the argument. There were multiple groups of kids in different classrooms. Reporters were informed the kids had been debating all day. As for initial impressions, let’s just say it was an eye-opening experience of the wit and quick thinking of the group of kids. Here are some thoughts on the debate held at Cape Fear Community College’s Warwick Center:
From Jason Gonzales’ perspective:
If it hadn’t been for a list of other community college students tasked with judging the debate, I would have been more nervous than the eight kids debating the topics. When I got in the room, the groups were rehearsing their sticking points and looked very composed. I thought for a second I was looking at a group of seasoned professionals and not middle school students. The kids’ topics for the debate I judged were “Should principals carry guns?” and “Should we recognize a national history month for certain ethnic groups?” You could tell even when the arguments got a bit thin, the kids had studied hard. They interviewed industry leaders, principals and teachers. One group even pulled relevant statements from certain community and world leaders. I applauded the effort.
Also, these kids were very composed, and that’s what stuck out to me the most. They really were well put together for a group of 7th and 8th graders. I spend a lot of time in schools (just a tad less than Pressley), but I can tell you I am always pleasantly surprised by each child I interview or come into contact with. I would say, however, that this group really left me stunned. This group put a lot of time and effort into this debate and I value the healthy exercise in debate. It was tough to grade the kids, because I was rooting for each, but I did my best.
I hope this debate fuels them into their next level of education. Good luck, Trask Middle School students.
From Pressley Baird’s perspective:
Public speaking for the middle-school version of myself would have been a fate only slightly worse than death. Talking? In front of people? Who are also my classmates? No way.
So I was pleasantly surprised to hear four groups of debaters that were the polar opposite of my middle-school self. The Trask Middle students whose debates I judged knew their stuff and could convey it clearly — with only a hint of that ever-present seventh- and eighth-grade nervousness.
I listened to eighth-graders debate the merits of a four-day school week and seventh-graders discuss whether principals should be allowed to carry guns in schools. I would find myself agreeing with both sides throughout the debates — a testament to the students’ preparation. These kids had dug deep, looking at relevant news reports, state and national laws and — my favorite — giving the audience a way they could act.
The groups I judged were strongest during their cross examination periods. Under pressure like that, it’s hard to stay poised and hammer home your argument no matter how old you are. But my groups really listened to the other side, asking good follow-up questions that made their opponents go beyond surface arguments. I also loved watching the middle-school audience members. They stayed engaged the entire time, visibly reacting when a classmate made a good point. They were also using their iPhones to take photos and videos of the debaters (and occasionally the judges). Can we say 21st century learning?
It’s refreshing to see smart, talented kids put their skills to use. Thanks for letting us witness that, Trask Middle.