Debating Is Good for Kids

It’s one thing to learn facts. It’s a whole other to learn to think. This is true for our children, for the after school program where I work, and even for my small knowledge of and experience with Kenya (where, for decades, people were taught to not think for themselves, whether by missionaries or by the government).

Young children need to learn to obey completely, quickly, and with a happy heart. And these principles apply our entire lives when it comes to how we should respond to authority. However, we also need to teach youth to think critically.

Researchers have demonstrated how to help students improve in argumentative reasoning. This training is better accomplished (among middle schoolers) through oral debate, not written papers. As explained in the article,

“Children engage in conversation from very early on,” explains [researcher Deanna] Kuhn. “It has a point in real life.” Fulfilling a writing assignment, on the other hand, largely entails figuring out what the teacher wants and delivering it. To the student, “that’s its only function.”

It makes sense. When you write a paper, you just have to give your side. But oral debate makes you listen and comprehend other perspectives.

Upon reading this article in March, Marvin Love and I thought it would be good to implement this in our programming. Since he primarily works with the older kids (4th – 8th grade), we knew that his class would be the best fit.

It has gone really well. His group has discussed and debated topics such as dress codes, school suspensions, rap music, and standardized testing.

Of course, learning how to think critically is a long-term process, as is any area of child training. But we know that continuing in this will have a positive impact on the children we work with.

Do you have any suggestions of what else we can debate?

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4 responses to “Debating Is Good for Kids”

  1. Katie says :

    With the older ones maybe you can debate topics related to the problems you mentioned…whether or not it's a problem, and ideas that might help bring them to people's attention and spur change. Ownership goes a long way, particularly with ideas.

  2. Joey Espinosa says :

    Do you mean the problems of education, teen pregnancies, and disconnected dads? That is a great idea.

  3. Ashley Pichea says :

    Visiting from Kevin DeYoung's blog post on Parenting today and just wanted to say “hi”!

    I'm not sure if you're in a Christian or secular setting, but debating “gray” areas could be interesting.

  4. Joey Espinosa says :

    Thanks for “stopping by.”

    Well, in God's perspective, there really is nothing secular, right? But I know what you mean. 🙂

    I work at the Boys & Girls Club in a very impoverished area. I like to say that this is a “morally-positive, spiritually-neutral” environment. You can read the post when you click through “Marvin Love” above, where I discuss why it's important for Christians to serve in the (secular) culture.

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