High Schools Need to Make Debate Class a Graduation Requirement

Vector illustration of two profiles with gears inside their heads. One has cool / blue colored gears, the other has hot / red
Vector illustration of two profiles with gears inside their heads. One has cool / blue colored gears, the other has hot / red colored gears.

Although I'm about to pay Ted Cruz a few compliments, please don't confuse that with my liking him, because I don't. I come from the opposite extreme of his politics and values; his condescending manner and the overall unlikability factor he carries also put me off quite a bit. But these personal opinions are a whole other article, perhaps for a different time. That said, I do need to give credit to Mr. Cruz where it's due and, according to famed Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, Cruz was the smartest student and debater Dershowitz had ever met at Harvard Law. "He was off-the-charts brilliant" Dershowitz told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Prior to attending Harvard, Cruz achieved great success and won multiple awards as a debater during his undergraduate years at Princeton. He won the top speaker award at two separate national debate competitions and, that same year, he was named U.S. National Speaker of the Year. His debate skills are unquestionably exceptional and first-rate. There is no doubt Cruz has paved his way to career success with hard work, ambition, and intelligence.

But I'm willing to bet the many years of honing his craft--debate--have certainly facilitated much of Cruz' success, both political and as a private practice attorney. There are so many benefits to being a skilled debater, it would be impossible for those assets to not have played a part in the advancement of his career and subsequent success.

And, though many believe debate skills can only be of use in the field of law, this is not the case. Debate skills can and do have a positive influence in any career field. This is because it's not the argument itself which typically determines ones career success but the skills themselves which are so helpful.

Required of debate are massive doses of analytical and critical thinking, intensive research, finding evidence to support the argument, and learning to be quick and think on one's feet. All are very important facets to a strong debate. What I deem to be the most important debate-skill/benefit of all is that of delving into both sides of the argument. When one feels strongly about a topic, it is generally human nature not to look at the other side; we want to back up our own opinion and turn a blind eye to the differing view. But because debate requires heavy analysis of both sides of the topic, the competitor learns and understands all relevant areas and points of view of said subject. And, as a result, one's understanding of the original argument actually becomes strengthened.

My younger daughter, Amy, took her high school's speech and debate class her freshman year. She got so much out of it she decided to join the actual high school team her sophomore year. She was hooked. She loved everything about it--the camaraderie, the competition, and the process of learning a topic so thoroughly she could argue it in her sleep. By default, I became familiarized with debate by seeing all the hard work Amy put into preparing for her competitions. It took up a majority of her time but it was truly no less than a labor of love for her. The commitment and hard core energy the preparations for competitions require is incredible life training for these students. When I attend the tournaments at which many schools partake, I'm in awe of the work ethic the students possess and how seriously they take their team sport. It's an academic group of kids who enjoy learning and competing simultaneously.

Public speaking instills confidence in the participant; I can think of few skills more enriching to one's life. As adults, we know that confidence plays a part in most actions we take. The greater the confidence the more likely one is to take good, healthy risks. These risks are typically a necessity in consistent advancement in the workplace. Debate students, like all students, have varied public speaking comfort levels-- but the more frequently students debate, the more confident and comfortable the student becomes. It is apparent there is a high level of confidence amongst the seasoned debate students.

All these aspects of debate are excellent preparation for life and future careers. Analysis and critical thinking are important skills for any person to learn and, certainly, the earlier one obtains these skills the greater the effect on one's future. And one's career is not the only area in which debate skills have a positive impact. Even interpersonal relationships benefit strongly from both participants seeing the other person's viewpoint and taking the time to analyze and understand it. Whether one agrees with the other's opinion isn't the issue; it's the ability to see it and view it from an angle different than one's own.

Given all the positive and helpful assets debate provides individuals, it is a disservice for high schools to not make debate class a requirement for graduation. What high school administration would not want each and every one of their graduates going on to the next phase of their life armed with the invaluable tools obtained in debate? It seems obvious to me that, as a mom observing how much debate has brought to my daughter, all students can and should benefit from the essential skills inherent in debate.