Why debate?

What do Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Tony Blair, Ted Turner, and Brad Pitt have in common? All of them were a member of a debating society while in college! For many successful people, competitive debating was an excellent way to learn how to communicate better.

This is not that weird of a thought; through debating, all elements of persuasive oral communication are developed. This does not only comprise argumentation and presentation, as is often thought, but also specifically listening skills. One can only respond effectively to another’s story when they have first carefully listened to said story.

Moreover, debating stimulates critical thinking and contributes to an expansion of the societal frame of reference. When the topics of debate include the ecological main structure or the protection of human rights in the Arabic world, they force the participants to critically handle the motion at hand, form an opinion regarding the matter, and carefully substantiating that opinion.

Despite all of that, many people do not necessarily join a debating society or visit a debating tournament; they simply enjoy it! When participating in a debate, you accept the challenge to defend a standpoint that seems trivial (or completely nontrivial) with clear argumentation and fitting examples. That is harder than it seems, but that makes it even more fun!

Debating the evidence

Is debating really so useful that you learn something from it? A real debater does not accept this statement to be true without first asking for evidence. Luckily, the English Speaking Union conducted a meta-analysis to answer the questions. They considered 51 reports that researched whether debating has had a positive effect on (high) school and/or university students, mostly with students being in the range of 5 to 18 years of age. You can read the full report here (PDF).

The most important conclusions are:

  • Students that do debate have a smaller chance to leave school without a diploma. They also score higher than their peers on reading and writing tests.
  • Using debating as a didactic measure gives students a deeper understanding of the material. A debate in history class, for example, gives students a better understanding of the matter to be studied and enables them to activate that knowledge in practice.
  • Critical thinking was improved by 44% due to regular debate in class.
  • Debating stimulates the ambition of students to pursue higher education.
  • Students that do debate have a higher self-confidence.

All in all: debating is not only fun; it is also exceptionally useful!