Why Everyone Should Debate
And why not that many do
By MARTIN REZNY
As someone who started debating more than a decade ago and now is an executive of an international debating society, I must completely agree with all points laid out by the author of the article. He clearly speaks from direct experience — there’s little denying that debating teaches useful skills. To people who have been through that experience.
In reality, even at its most prominent in the English-speaking world (which I’m personally not from), debating is not an integral part of any standard education system. In the way in which it’s being done virtually anywhere in the world, it’s also focused primarily on the competitive element, discouraging most who are not part of the intellectual elite among students of any age group.
It’s like having only olympic games, but not gyms or PE classes at school. It may have something to do with a dominant perspective on the usefulness of debating — that it is only good for you if you have ambitions of becoming an academician, entrepreneur, CEO, politician, or a lawyer. It’s of course very useful if you indeed have such ambitions, but that’s neither the full scope, nor the main point of what debating can teach people.
It has not always been this way. Debating as a subset of rhetoric used to be an integral part of complete education ever since the times of ancient Greece. Along with grammar and logic, it was a part of the so called trivium, later expanded by arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy in the quadrivium. It’s also worth noting that it was usually taught in Greek or Latin, not a native tongue (unless you were the original Greeks or Romans).
Today’s equivalent for most people in the world would be starting education via debating in English. As soon as you learn the basic grammar of the language, focusing on logic before you start learning math. Believe it or not, it worked extremely well — people taught “only” this went on to become all the legendary leaders, thinkers, warriors, builders, you name it. The logic of this approach is to teach people how to think freely and effectively, and then leave it up to them which subjects they want to pursue. Arguably, that’s how ancient Greeks became so great.
The only problem of this model of education was that only a few had the opportunity to participate in it. In one of the grandest cases of fixing what’s not broken, the Prussians (later known as Germans) devised a “modern” model of education — let’s educate everyone in *what* to think, like “the leader is awesome”. Let’s throw away all that logic and freedom, and instead focus on memorizing statements and on drilling practical skills, so that we the government can shape the people into obedient and efficient bureaucrats, workers, and soldiers, instead of independent thinkers or artists. Well, they got it at least half right.
Whatever you may think about the standard educational model in use today everywhere, this is its original purpose, and this is what it does. Debating is not a supplement to it or an enhancement of it, it should be the main focus instead of content-oriented subjects where answers are provided and learning paths predetermined. After all, any content can be debated and thus taught, helping the students decide if they really need to focus on it, and if yes, which parts of it. In what order. To what extent. On their own, in their life, not at school.
Without a substantial debating experience, any person is less complete, their thinking limited and their ability of self-expression crippled. All people should debate, because just like learning to read, to write, and to compute, learning to think and to speak uplifts the mind and cultivates the person. It’s absolutely equivalent and equally essential, satisfying the original and the primary purpose of education — not preparation for a job, preparation for life.
True, this is an opinion, not necessarily a fact, but that doesn’t automatically make it wrong. Even if you just start debating me on this, even if you at least consider it, more will be done to remedy this failure of education than what has been done until now.
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