DEFENDING YOUR SPEECH PROGRAM

A Speech and Debate Program provides students with an invaluable experience that no regular class can offer. A school that invests money into sending students to compete in basketball, soccer and other sports, also should make an investment in an academic activity that gives students so much education.

Students in Speech and Debate learn valuable skills that benefit them throughout their lives. According to scholars Ronald Matlon and Thompson Briggers, students who participate on Speech and Debate teams become, disproportionately, the most successful business, political, communication, and legal leaders. Included in the most notable of this group are former president John F. Kennedy, news journalist Jane Pauley, and famous legal scholar Laurence Tribe. I can attest to Matlon and Briggers' findings for I am proud to be the coach of an honors scholar at Columbia Law School and a leading researcher in the renowned department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona.

A Speech and Debate Team ensures that students have the best opportunities available to them. Consider the following benefits:

1. Strong Research Skills

Students learn how to use a library at a very sophisticated level. Their learning goes beyond what students typically attain in other courses and in visits to the library. They learn to use advanced databases, government documents, and electronic on-line information. Plus, when they research they must do so at a level of depth that goes well beyond a typical class paper, including ten and twenty page ones. Dedicated, championship level students will spend hours working at your library, mulling over articles and books, researching at a level that rivals the work college masters candidates put into their theses. These students bring these research skills to others at your school as well, offering tips and help.

2. Strong Communication Skills

Students in speech and debate learn skills in speaking. The effort to do their best in competition encourages them to communicate in the most effective way for their audience. Students learn to adapt to differing judges because every round they must adjust to the judge in front of them. They improve as communicators as a result of the many comments they receive from a diverse group of judges. It is true that students in championship policy team debate have a tendency to speak too rapidly. However, the better debaters are able to speak slowly and persuasively when their judges prefer that style of delivery. And the "quick" debaters with whom I have worked, were also, without exception, able to adjust to regular speaking situations with clear and articulate presentations (and were far better than other students who did not participate on the speech and debate team). Indeed, here at Whitman College, I hear over and over again about how strong our debatersí contributions are in class presentations and discussions.

3. Increased Knowledge about our World

Students in speech and debate learn about a wide variety of issues confronting our world. Students intensively discuss and research issues like immigration into the United States, our policy toward China, and what we should do to reduce environmental pollutants. They read the newspaper, contemporary journals, and books. The competition and diversity of ideas that students are exposed to at speech tournaments dramatically increases student awareness. They bring this knowledge to their other courses sparking discussions and thought among their peers.

4. Increased Critical Thinking Skills

Students in speech and debate do not accept information uncritically from others. Instead, they think about how strongly supported the arguments of others are. They learn to think through arguments and to analyze them critically. At tournaments, students are subjected to a wide variety of arguments. Students who debate only in a classroom are not exposed to as wide a diversity of arguments, leaving them less knowledgeable about the world.

5. Develop Team Work Skills

While students engage in this competitive activity, they also work together to make themselves as strong as possible. Students in speech and debate form a strong and cohesive group. Trips to tournaments bring students together in the van, at restaurants, and at hotels. They form strong bonds with each other that do not happen in a classroom. They study and work together. They are friends with each other. In competing against other schools, students learn ethical approaches to competing as well as the importance of working together as a team.

6. Build Educational Connections with other Schools

Students on a speech and debate team make strong connections with other schools. Students compete with and talk with students from other schools. Students get feedback from instructors at other schools. Coaches learn from the wide variety of speeches they hear and that enhances their instruction in classes they teach. These connections enhance the learning experience and add to the strength of your school.

7. Beneficial to Student Futures

Maintaining a speech and debate program provides more opportunities for students trying to enter into colleges. Students who have competed in forensics are considered top notch recruits for graduate school because recruiters know that these students are committed, hard working students. At many communication and law schools as well as political science graduate schools, students are offered scholarships for their skill in forensics. This opportunity would be lost without such a program.

All in all, forensics is an activity with unique educational benefits. Students get the opportunity to engage in an intellectually challenging competition between their ideas and those of other people. They develop skills that will make them more effective advocates. And, perhaps most important, they develop a lasting group of friends who share their interests.