When you’re on a championship debate team, you’d better have a point, and a counter-point. NBC 6’s Ari Odzer watched the Cypress Bay High School debate team practice. It’s sort of like watching relentless pit bulls attack each other, but instead of fangs they use logic and evidence.
The mental gymnastics of debating, learning all sides of an issue, is part of the appeal.
“Absolutely,” says Megan West, the school’s debate coach. “It’s the old Greek principal of sophism. The sophists believed you had to hear both sides of an issue to truly appreciate it and that’s really what we’re teaching our kids every day.”
The Broward School district expanded debate programs to every high school in the county this year, and middle schools are next. So far, 13 middle schools offer debate classes or a competitive debate team. Eventually, all of them will.
The school district sees tremendous value in it because the kids who take debate classes and join debate teams aren’t just learning to become better public speakers; they’re improving a wide range of their skills, and that’s not up for debate.
“The best thing about debate is that it teaches these kids to be ready for any job that they will do in the future. They’re learning how to research; they’re learning how to speak; they’re learning how to write and really they’re learning to communicate a message,” West said.
She took over Cypress Bay’s team five years ago and built it into a nationally-known program, finishing second in the country last year.
“Obviously it’s provided me with a way to speak in front of people, but it’s also been a way to learn skills such as teamwork,” said junior debate team member Danielle Bush.
Cypress Bay’s captain says being on the team has “dramatically” improved his writing skills. Senior Giancarlo Musetti said his mom forced him to get involved because he was a shy kid.
“I hated it, but she made me continue and I started to love it, and the reason I did is because it taught me that all you need is confidence,” Musetti said.
A packed bag helps, too. Cypress Bay’s team regularly flies all over the country for tournaments, as do the teams from many other local high schools.
But not everyone interested in the give and take of presenting, defending, and arguing a position joins the school team. Most kids in the program take debate as a class. The county has more than 5,000 high school students involved in debate right now.
If you’re debating whether debate is right for your child, you’ll soon have more options: Broward Schools are planning on bringing debate programs to elementary schools as well.