The Importance of Debate
“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert
Why is a debate important? Here is an excellent introduction from University of Washington’s Department of Communication:
Debate is the activity that brings the art of reading, thinking and speaking together in one place. When medieval scholars set out to establish the curriculum of the world’s first universities, they considered three liberal arts essential for leadership and promotion of the best ideas: grammar, logic, and rhetoric (reading, thinking, speaking). When they sought to test the depth to which these skills had sunk in, medieval faculty demanded students participate not in exams or papers, but in disputations—in other words, debates. Although much has changed in the world since the 19th century, scholars laid out these basic elements of the artium baccalaureus degree. The ability to conceive, articulate, and evaluate arguments remains not only the lifeblood of democracy and society, but essential to the development of an engaged and ethical individual living in contemporary technological democratic society.
More from Stanford’s National Forensic Institute:
Debate is a valuable activity for students of all skill levels. Debate teaches useful skills for other academic pursuits and life more generally. Most obviously, debaters build confidence speaking in public and expressing their ideas eloquently. That comfort speaking in front of others is useful in so many areas of life, from interviews to school presentations to discussions in college seminars.
But the benefits of debating are not limited to the skills built while students are speaking—the preparation for competition teaches critical thinking and research skills, as well. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Debate tests and builds that ability by forcing students to see both sides of issues. Debaters flex their analytical muscles, learning to find the weak points in opponent’s arguments. They learn to explain their own ideas and assess different viewpoints, whether in a debate round, a political discussion, a classroom, or a written essay. And debate requires students to research their ideas and support them with evidence, teaching them to conduct research and assess sources. According to Arne Duncan, then-Secretary of Education, debate is “uniquely suited” to build skills required of a modern citizen, including critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
Debating is clearly a very powerful skill to have. The ability to put one’s ideas across succinctly, rebut the opponent’s points in near real-time and do so in front of an audience – these are what makes debates critical in schools, colleges and civil society. And yet, in today’s India, it was a lost art form. But that was not always so.
Tomorrow: Part 5