Did you have a chance to attend the screening of a film during the recent AFI Dallas International Film Festival? My wife and I were able to see a couple of them. And much to my surprise, the film that moved us the most was an unexpected view into the world of high school debate, Resolved.
“Moving” probably isn’t a word you associate with high school debate. (More likely, it’s a word such as “geek.”) Debate pits teams of students against each other, alternating in their academic arguments for and against a topic. The topic always begins, “Resolved: _______________.” Often these topics are focused on the economy, or foreign policy, or a thorny constitutional issue. In other words, the debates have the potential to be dry as toast.
However, Resolved is anything but dry. Modern debate is not familiar to most of us. It involves rapid-fire delivery (up to 400 words per minute; try it yourself) of intricately researched arguments amid dizzying layers of logic. That alone is amazing to watch. But even more amazing is how the lives of four debaters, two from Highland Park and two from Long Beach, California, tell a compelling story about real life and preparing for what lies beyond high school.
CFT stepped into the world of high school debate a couple of times during the past year. Once was through a discretionary grant to the National Center for Policy Analysis for its “Debate Central” website, an easily-accessed, common source of research material for all students about the national debate topic. The second was through a discretionary grant to the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance in support of a summer debate institute for the growing number of Dallas ISD kids participating in high school debate.
There is evidence that competitive debate programs can be remarkably effective ways to engage students. That’s true both at schools where you might expect it, and at schools where you might not, such as urban campuses in economically challenged neighborhoods. Engaged students stay in school. They learn how to overcome obstacles. They graduate. And, they are better prepared for whatever life holds after high school.
Steve Blow, columnist for The Dallas Morning News, stirred up some controversy recently by explaining his view about why some kids drop out of high school. He asserted that because many of them probably would not wind up in college, they are essentially “pushed out by schools fixated on a college-prep curriculum.”
Yikes. It’s true that some students won’t go on to pursue four-year bachelor’s degrees. But, those who don’t may pursue a two-year associate’s degree or seek specialized technical training. Our world is becoming more complicated each day in nearly every aspect. All students benefit from facing appropriately rigorous challenges throughout their school years. Rigor produces results—it doesn’t excuse giving up.
That’s why CFT has made two grants for debate-related programs. We are resolved that new education strategies can lead to rigorous, relevant experiences in school—and stronger citizens.