The HWS Debate Team recently began a new program with fifth graders at North Street School, working with the elementary students on developing skills that are vital to debate such as critical thinking, argumentation and public speaking. Each Thursday, the HWS students join the elementary school’s after school debate club.
“Debate is a powerful pedagogical tool. It’s very exciting to have our students be so instrumental in developing a program for local students at an early age,” remarks Assistant Professor of Philosophy Eric Barnes, the debate team coach and adviser.
“I think that everyone on the debate team recognizes how much the skills that you develop in debate spill over into the rest of your life,” explains the team’s vice president Anna Dorman ’14. “Debate helps us all academically and socially so we thought we would share that with other students.”
At the first meeting more than 25 kids attended and were excited to debate. Members of the HWS Debate team were also really excited to be involved in the program and the team now needs multiple vehicles to travel to the program.
“When we first proposed the idea, I wasn’t really sure if kids would be into it but I thought that we could make it fun for them so more kids would want to sign up,” explains Dorman.
Members of the team divide up with the kids and work on different skills that are necessary to build strong arguments. “We work on seeing different sides of debates and coming up with strong points on both sides of issues,” says Dorman. The kids debate a wide array of issues from the implementation of school uniforms, to homework loads, to whether or not gym class is important in schools.
“I think it’s great that we can help kids learn the fundamentals of debate – developing an argument, and providing solid reasoning to back it up,” remarks Tom Luly ’12. “It’s a great way to get them to engage each other in lively discussion about a variety of topics – and they have a lot of fun doing it.”
However, it’s not only the children who benefit from the experience. Amil Shah ’12 found the experience energizing. “Teaching debate has been an extraordinary experience; I have been so impressed by the vast improvement that I have seen in both their oratory and analytical skills in these few weeks,” says Shah.
Even the teachers have noticed a marked difference in their students. “One of their teachers expressed how excited she was to see that participation in the debate club had such an impact on her students’ ability speak and write effectively during class,” notes Shah.
“The fifth graders think of truly creative and unique points that always keep everyone laughing and having a good time. Though it is only an hour each week I think that it is a really good thing for everyone involved and a great way for the HWS Debate program to give back to the community,” Dorman says.
The photo above features Debate team member, Tom Luly ’12 helping a North Street Elementary school student prepare for a debate.