Remember memorizing the Bill of Rights? The government’s taxation authority? The line of succession if a President leaves office? The number of representatives in Congress and how they are chosen? All relevant to civic life – or at least to passing your high school civics test.
But where do we learn how to be effective participants in the civic life of our community?
In The Civic Mission of Schools, published by the Carnegie Corporation and CIRCLE, the authors note that effective civic participants:
- are aware of and understand public and community issues,
- know how to obtain information about those issues,
- are capable of thinking critically about the issues,
- are willing to engage in dialogue, and
- understand diverse perspectives about public issues.
How do debaters measure up?
Our students are aware of and well-versed in current public and community issues. This year’s national debate topic is U.S. space policy. Last year, students delved into military policy. The year before – poverty. Each topic they attack is rich with subtopics and our debaters become immersed in them.
Research is a key component of preparing to debate. Our students come out of their debate experience with unbeatable skills in knowing how to access and assess information about public policy issues.
For hours and hours – in practice sessions and tournaments – our students engage in point-and-counterpoint on complex policy issues. Their critical look at their own and their opponents’ cases requires analysis from big picture philosophies to granular details. This is critical thinking on its feet.
Debate is, by definition, a dialogue. Our students are not merely willing to engage, they are excited to engage. Finally, required to argue both sides of multiple issues, and faced with opponents from all over the city, our students develop the keen ability to understand diverse perspectives.
You need look no further than debate for a successful civic participation tool. With the skills of effective civic participation at their fingertips, our debaters are the informed and engaged community members of the future.
A+ in Civics Class for them!
Edie Canter, Executive Director