Why Speech and Debate is Important for All Students

A few years ago, my son and I attended a debate between well-known atheist and author Christopher Hitchens, and a professor/author from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The debate was entitled “Does a Good God Exist?” The event was held at a large church in North Texas, filled with middle and high school students from nearby private schools. That day, Christopher Hitchens eloquently communicated the message of atheism with a sophisticated British accent and witty, persuasive style, while the seminary professor attempted to argue in technical, complicated terms why science and Christianity were not incompatible. If there is a God, Hitchens asserted, why does He stand by passively allowing horrific evils in the world? Much of the evil in the world has been perpetuated in the name of religion, he proclaimed. Hitchens “won” the debate with wit and passion before an audience of hundreds of impressionable teens that day, while Truth was buried in a mire of complex scientific reasoning. Sitting in the audience that day, I was more convinced than ever of the importance of participation in speech and debate.

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Speech & debate sharpens student’s ability to think and listen critically, and articulate their thoughts confidently and persuasively. The ability to think critically is essential for our children today, who are being bombarded with humanistic ideas and political agendas in movies, TV, social media, music, literature, and even their textbooks.

Let’s go back to Hitchens’ claim that God stands by passively allowing “horrific evils” and that much of the evil in the world has been perpetuated in the name of religion. What does an atheist even mean by “horrific” and “evil”? Here Hitchens assumes a universal and objective standard of morality, a claim not warranted by atheism. The seminary professor attempted to press Hitchens on this, but wasn’t able to set-up his argument convincingly.  Hitchens side-stepped the issue and continued on with seemingly reasonable assertions for atheism, riddled with unproven assumptions supported by inadequate justifications.

Political correctness can also obscure lurking messages beneath seemingly benign rhetoric. For example, phrases like “reproductive justice” often serve as euphemists for the pro-abortion agenda. Speech & debate training helps students hone the thinking skills that they need in order to identify and expose the underlying premises and assumptions behind ideas. By teaching students to question the underlying assumptions behind public policies and the positions of others, they are better equipped to filter the ideas that they are bombarded with in our culture. Through this process, they develop the skills to articulate what they believe and why. Their training advances respectful and clear communication as the most effective and productive method of discourse.

No matter how our children are bent, the ability to analyze ideas, and articulate their views confidently and persuasively will set them apart in whatever field they pursue. Many executives, lawyers, teachers, public relations officers, radio and television personalities, and prominent public figures testify to the benefits of their forensics participation (forensics is the term for competitive speech and debate). Many of them found life-long friends through their involvement, and gained valuable skills to that set them apart in the workplace.

8 BENEFITS OF SPEECH & DEBATE

  • Critical thinking skills. Students involved in Speech & Debate develop higher-level thinking skills through application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and creativity. They come to understand what they believe about the issues that confront them in our culture and why.
  • Increased problem-solving abilities and overall academic performance. Speech & Debate students score higher on standardized tests including the SAT, ACT, and AP.
  • Research skills. Speech & Debate students learn more about their world and the policies and value system that affect them and their communities as a whole.
  • Critical listening skills
  • Think quickly on their feet
  • Confidence under pressure
  • Present compelling responses to difficult questions
  • Best of all: Life-long friendships!

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